Gagosian Quarterly

August 15, 2014


Alexander Wolf assembles a timeline of Duchamp’s famous Bicycle Wheel.

Marcel Duchamp, Bicycle Wheel, 1913–64 (“Ex Arturo,” one of two artist’s proofs). Photo by Rob McKeever

Marcel Duchamp, Bicycle Wheel, 1913–64 (“Ex Arturo,” one of two artist’s proofs). Photo by Rob McKeever

Alexander Wolf

Since 2013, Alexander Wolf’s projects at Gagosian have included sales, communications, and online initiatives. He has written for the Quarterly on Piero Golia, Nam June Paik, Robert Therrien, and other gallery artists.

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Nearly two centuries ago, a German man by the name of Baron Karl von Drais invented the bicycle. Almost a century later, a Frenchman by the name of Marcel Duchamp created Bicycle Wheel, which would become a hallmark of the conceptual artist’s career. Today, 111 years after Duchamp first created—then lost, then recreated—the piece, Alexander Wolf examines the timeline.


Duchamp paints Coffee Mill, a wedding gift for his brother, the sculptor Raymond Duchamp-Villon. “I made this old-fashioned coffee mill for him. It shows the different facets of the coffee grinding operation and the handle on top is seen simultaneously in several positions as it revolves.”1


Duchamp paints Bride and Nude Descending a Staircase (No. 2), imbuing classical subjects with mechanical motion. Nude is rejected by the Salon des Independents and ignites controversy at New York’s first Armory Show the following year.2


Duchamp attaches the front wheel and fork of a bicycle to the top of a kitchen stool. He later described the object “as a pleasure, something to have in my room the way you have a fire, or a pencil sharpener, except that there was no usefulness. It was a pleasant gadget, pleasant for the movement it gave.”3

In 1913, I had the happy idea to fasten a bicycle wheel to a kitchen stool and watch it turn.

Marcel Duchamp


Sails to New York. Bicycle Wheel is lost when Duchamp’s sister Suzanne cleans out his Paris studio.4


Duchamp replicates Bicycle Wheel for his studio at 33 West 67th Street.4


Produces the next replica of Bicycle Wheel for the exhibition “Climax in 20th Century Art, 1913” at the Sidney Janis Gallery, using a wheel that Janis brought from Paris and a used stool purchased in Brooklyn. This third iteration is now in the collection of the Museum of Modern Art.4


In Stockholm, critic Ulf Linde and artist Per Olof Ultvedt are instructed by Duchamp to construct another replica, which is later inscribed by Duchamp: “pour copie conforme Marcel Duchamp Stockholm 1961”.4


 In London, Richard Hamilton creates the final copie conforme of Bicycle Wheel before the production of the Schwarz edition.4

Duchamp’s Bicycle Wheel: A Timeline

Installation view, Marcel Duchamp, Gagosian Madison Avenue, New York, June 26–August 8, 2014. Photo by Rob McKeever


Under Duchamp’s supervision, Arturo Schwarz produces editions of fourteen readymades. The Schwarz edition of Bicycle Wheel is now included in the collections of the Philadelphia Museum of Art, the Israel Museum, and other leading institutions.4


The Schwarz edition of Bicycle Wheel is exhibited at Cordier & Ekstrom Gallery, then located at 978 Madison Avenue, together with over one hundred of Duchamp’s works, including readymades, paintings, and drawings.5


One of two artist’s proofs from the Schwarz edition is exhibited in Marcel Duchamp at Gagosian New York.

Even if Duchamp’s first readymade was so serendipitous, the unprecedented gesture was also years in the making. By 1911, the “Puteaux Cubists,” including Duchamp, Sonia and Robert Delaunay, Albert Gleizes, Fernand Leger, and Jean Metzinger, had devised alternative, multi-perspectival, and sometimes wholly abstract approaches to painting and sculpture.3 In the 1912 paintings Bride and Nude Descending a Staircase (No. 2), Duchamp merged classical subjects with mechanical motion; Nude was rejected by the Salon des Independents, and was a lightning rod of controversy at New York’s first Armory Show in 1913. In a letter to Constantin Brancusi that year, Duchamp declared painting “washed up,” adding “who will ever do anything better than the propeller?”7 With the spinning gadget that came to be known as Bicycle Wheel, he crystallized this point of view.

The subsequent “readymades”—including Bottle Dryer (Bottle Rack), Hat Rack, and Fountain—were increasingly derisive of conventional authorship. Duchamp began to explore the processes and implications of replicating “creative acts,” beginning with his construction of a second Bicycle Wheel upon arrival in New York in 1916. Two decades later, Boîte-en-valise (1935–41), a suitcase containing a “portable museum” of fold-out reproductions and miniatures of his most important works, epitomized his approach to his own oeuvre and history.

1Howarth, Sophie. “Coffee Mill 1911.” May 2000. Retrieved 11 August, 2014.
2“Nude Descending a Staircase (No. 2).” Retrieved 11 August 2014.
3Tomkins, Calvin. The Bride and the Bachelors, Revised Edition. New York: Gagosian Gallery, 2013. Print.
4Kamien-Kazhdan, Adina. “Duchamp, Man Ray, and Replication.” The Small Utopia: Ars Multiplicata. Ed. Germano Celant. Milan: Fondazione Prada, 2012. 97–113.
5Hamilton, Richard. NOT SEEN and/or LESS SEEN of/by MARCEL DUCHAMP/RROSE SELAVY 1904–64. New York: Cordier & Ekstrom, Inc., 1964. unpaginated.
6“Bicycle Wheel.” Retrieved 11 August 2014.
7“Marcel Duchamp-Biography.” Retrieved 11 August, 2014.

Artwork © Succession Marcel Duchamp/ADAGP, Paris/Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York 2014

Edmund de Waal, stone for two hands and water, 2021, Hornton stone, bamboo, and water, 27 ⅜ × 56 ¾ × 23 ⅝ inches (69.5 × 144 × 60 cm), installation view, Henry Moore Studios & Gardens, Perry Green, England

The Thinking Hand

Edmund de Waal speaks with Richard Calvocoressi about touch in relation to art and our understanding of the world, and discusses the new stone sculptures he created for the exhibition This Living Hand: Edmund de Waal Presents Henry Moore, at the Henry Moore Studios & Gardens. Their conversation took place at the Fitzwilliam Museum, University of Cambridge, in the context of the exhibition The Human Touch.

GCC Founding Committee surrounded by grass and trees

The Bigger Picture
Gallery Climate Coalition

Gallery Climate Coalition founders Victoria Siddall and Heath Lowndes speak with Adele Minardi from Gagosian, London, about the origins of the coalition, its goals, and concrete steps that every actor in the art industry can take to reduce carbon emissions.

Jack McCollough and Lazaro Hernandez in their New York studio, 2019.

Fashion and Art: Proenza Schouler

Derek Blasberg speaks with Lazaro Hernandez and Jack McCollough, the designers behind the New York fashion brand Proenza Schouler, about their influences and collaborations, from Mark Rothko to Harmony Korine.

Left: Jordan Belson, Berkeley, California, c. 1946. Photo: courtesy Estate of Jordan Belson. Right: Harry Smith (front) and Lionel Ziprin, New York City, c. 1952. Photo: Joanne Ziprin, courtesy Lionel Ziprin Archives

Delineators: Jordan Belson and Harry Smith

Raymond Foye tracks the relationship between the two mavericks, investigating their influence on one another and their enduring legacies.

Catherine Deneuve, Jacques Demy, and Françoise Dorléac on the set of Demy’s The Young Girls of Rochefort (1967)

Jacques Demy

Carlos Valladares reminisces, in this personal essay, about the director’s films.

Purple and black graphic title page

The Iconoclasts: Part 3

The third installment of a four-part story cycle by Anne Boyer.

Gerhard Richter, Uncle Rudi, 1965, oil on canvas, 34 ¼ × 19 ¾ inches (87 × 50 cm), CR: 85

Gerhard Richter: Young Gerd

Richard Calvocoressi reflects on the monochrome world of Gerhard Richter’s early photo paintings.

Jeff Wall, Dead Troops Talk (a vision after an ambush of a Red Army Patrol, near Moqor, Afghanistan, winter 1986), 1992, transparency in lightbox, 90 ⅛ × 164 ⅛ inches (229 × 417 cm)

Death Valley ’89: Jeff Wall vs. Photography

Daniel Spaulding considers formal and technical developments in the photographer’s work against the background of global shifts of power and politics, specifically the fall of the Berlin Wall in 1989.

Takashi Murakami with his dog, Pom, Full Steam Ahead, Dark Matter in the Farthest Black Reaches of Visible Space, and Blue Flowers & Skulls (all 2012), Kaikai Kiki Co., Ltd., studio, Saitama, Japan, 2012

In Conversation
Takashi Murakami and Hans Ulrich Obrist

Hans Ulrich Obrist interviews the artist on the occasion of his 2012 exhibition Takashi Murakami: Flowers & Skulls at Gagosian, Hong Kong.

Gregory Crewdson, Red Star Express, 2018–19, digital pigment print, 56 ¼ × 94 ⅞ inches (127 × 225.7 cm)

Gregory Crewdson: An Eclipse of Moths

Gregory Crewdson discusses his new work with actor Cate Blanchett.

Isabelle Waldberg, with Construction (1943), in her studio, New York, 1943.

Isabelle Waldberg

Jacquelynn Baas profiles Isabelle Waldberg, writing on the sculptor’s many friendships and the influence of her singular creations.

Jay DeFeo working on The Rose (then titled Deathrose), photographed by Burt Glinn in 1960.

Jay DeFeo

Suzanne Hudson speaks with Leah Levy, executive director of the Jay DeFeo Foundation, about the artist’s life and work.