Francis Picabia Daughter Born without Mother 1916-17

Francis Picabia Daughter Born without Mother 1916–17
Scottish National Gallery of Modern Art © ADAGP, Paris and DACS, London 2008

Many avant-garde artists in the 1910s and 1920s found machinery aesthetically appealing, and showed their enthusiasm for modernity by using streamlined shapes and polished surfaces in their work. Duchamp and Picabia were among the very first to recognise machines as powerful icons of a new age, and used mechanical motifs to represent human activity and states of mind.

Duchamp saw in mechanical imagery a means of developing a deliberately impersonal and anti-aesthetic style. Picabia, by contrast, simply borrowed industrial designs from popular scientific books, scandalising those who felt art should be inspired by more appropriate and elevated sources. All three artists exploited the possibilities offered by machine imagery to make sexual jokes that escaped censorship.