Marcel Duchamp Nude Descending a Staircase No.2 1912

Marcel Duchamp Nude Descending a Staircase No.2 1912

Philadelphia Museum of Art: The Louise and Walter Arensberg Collection, 1950
© Succession Marcel Duchamp / ADAGP, Paris and DACS, London 2008

The challenge of how to represent three-dimensional movement engaged all three artists in the early and mid 1910s.

While Cubism set out to depict an object as if it was being viewed from various angles, Duchamp sought to represent the subject itself in motion. His Nude Descending a Staircase, No.2 created a furore when it was exhibited in New York in 1913. This was partly because no one had previously thought of a ‘nude’ doing something as prosaic as coming down stairs. Duchamp saw movement as embracing not only physical but also emotional and social change, and he made several works on the theme of the ‘passage’ from virgin to bride.

Picabia’s idea of motion focused on the flux of memories and sensations, as well as physical movement. Man Ray was a member of the same New York artistic circles as Duchamp and Picabia, and became equally absorbed by the idea of movement.