Alreadymade: A Thesis On Sturtevant’s Duchamps

Another example of Sturtevant’s Duchamp Sculpture de Voyage, 1969, from Chris Murtha’s 2021 thesis, “Double Documents: Imaging and Installation in Sturtevant’s ‘Duchamps'”

You know how in 2017, the White House reporter was like, “I’ve been working on this investigation for a year, and he…just…tweeted it out”? This is the diametric opposite on every vector: I was noodling for a couple of hours on a blog post about an auction lot, and he…just…wrote a masters thesis on it.

After posting some thoughts Friday about the Sturtevant repeats of Marcel Duchamp’s photographs of Readymades, I heard from Hunter professor and Sturtevant whisperer Michael Lobel, who shared the fascinating research one of his former students had done on these very artworks, and much more.

Chris Murtha’s 2021 thesis, Double Documents: Imaging and Installation in Sturtevant’s “Duchamps” is the first close look at Sturtevant’s use of photography and installation. These mediums are inextricable from the artist’s decades-long engagement with Duchamp’s work, and Murtha traces how they function both as aspects of art production, and as modes of exhibition and distribution.

A lot of Murtha’s attention focuses on two major, underdocumented exhibitions: the 1938 Exposition Internationale du Surréalisme, which Duchamp curated/installed and contributed to, and Sturtevant’s 1973 exhibition at the Everson Museum in Syracuse, NY. Along with the Readymade-related works she’d begun making in 1966, Sturtevant recreated elements of Duchamp’s 1938 mise-en-scene, installations that feel like they should be considered works themselves.

It’s a great and insightful read that makes me want even more Sturtevant research. Murtha provides more context of Sturtevant’s early encounters with Duchamp and his work in the 1960s. On the particular Boite-en-valise-style photocollages, it does sound like these photo-like images should not be considered evidence that Sturtevant actually made the Readymade objects they seem to depict. And for Sturtevant, as for Duchamp, that uncertainty was a goal.

Sturtevant Duchamp Readymade works, 1967 & 1969, sold together at Christie’s in 2012

When Murtha was writing, these photo works were only available through a 2012 Christie’s auction listing (which is not in the Bonham’s provenance, btw). The two Broken Arm works are the same objects, down to the speckles in the cardboard mounts. But though the Sculpture de Voyage image is the same, the print is a different object. The one sold in 2012 (above) is 21.5 cm square and overpainted, but not collaged. The one in Belgium (below) is 7.8 x 8.4 cm, collaged and overpainted, and mounted on a 23 x 20 cm card.

It sounds like one is an enlarged rephotograph of the other. And Murtha includes yet another version in the illustrations: a 4 3/4 x 6 inch print (top) with the Sculpture picked out in multicolored gouache. In this case especially, it was the image of a sculpture that Sturtevant was focusing on, not the shower cap sculpture itself.