Marcel Duchamp, 'Fresh Widow' 1920, replica 1964

Marcel Duchamp
Fresh Widow 1920, replica 1964
Mixed media
object: 789 x 532 x 99 mm
Purchased with assistance from the National Lottery through the Heritage Lottery Fund 1997© Succession Marcel Duchamp/ADAGP, Paris and DACS, London 2002

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All three artists were happy to act out roles in front of the camera and help each other in collaborative projects that typically involved humour and provocation in equal measure.

Duchamp created a female alter ego named Rrose Sélavy, in part to undermine the idea that art works are created by single, unchanging individuals. Man Ray photographed him in women’s clothes and make-up in a series of memorably camp images. The joke was not only that the highly cerebral Duchamp was willing to dress up as a woman, but that this woman was sexually available and entrepreneurial (she ‘signed’ more art works and texts than Duchamp himself in the interwar years).

Picabia also toyed with the idea of a female alter ego. La Veuve joyeuse (The Merry Widow) included a photograph of Picabia at the wheel of one of his many fast cars, taken by Man Ray. The title also referred, in a way that few would have realised at the time, to Duchamp’s object Fresh Widow – the first work signed by Rrose Sélavy.

Man Ray was closely involved in his friends’ masquerades and would occasionally step in front of the camera himself, making studied self-portraits in which he assumed various identities, both male and female.