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

Alexander Wolf has written for Modern Painters, Art in America, The Last Magazine, and The New Republic. In 2013 he joined Gagosian, New York, where his projects have included advising private and institutional collectors, communications, and online initiatives.

See all Articles

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

Jennifer Guidi in her Los Angeles studio, 2020.

Jennifer Guidi

The artist speaks with Laura Fried about her most recent paintings, the symbol of the serpent, and her evolving relationship to color.

The cover of the Spring 2020 edition of the Gagosian Quarterly magazine. A Cindy Sherman photograph of herself dressed as a clown against a rainbow background.

Now available
Gagosian Quarterly Spring 2020

The Spring 2020 issue of Gagosian Quarterly is now available, featuring Cindy Sherman’s Untitled #412 (2003) on its cover.

George Tjungurrayi's orange abstract painting Untitled—Kirrimalunya, polymer paint on linen.

Desert Painters of Australia

Steve Martin and Anne Stringfield’s collection of contemporary Indigenous Australian painting spans three generations of the “Desert Painters” of remote regions of Central and Western Australia. Louise Neri talks with Martin about his collecting passion, and about an exhibition that presents works from their collection along with a key loan from the Kluge-Ruhe Aboriginal Art Collection at the University of Virginia. Their conversation is followed by commentary on these works by Martin’s friend Fred Myers, a longtime aficionado of the Desert artists.

Kelly Reichardt.

The World According to Kelly Reichardt

Carlos Valladares writes on Kelly Reichardt’s films, exploring the director’s interest in subtle details and care for complex characters.

A Christopher Wool painting from 1994. White background, with black and pink enamel.

Christopher Wool: Part One

Christopher Wool and his unlikely heroes or conceptual or not? Text by Richard Hell.

Edmund de Waal and Jan Dalley, FT Weekend Festival, London, September 7, 2019

In Conversation
Edmund de Waal and Jan Dalley

At the FT Weekend Festival 2019 in London, Edmund de Waal sat down for a conversation with Financial Times arts editor Jan Dalley. They spoke about the relationship between words and sculpture in his practice, and about two recent projects: the two-part exhibition psalm, in Venice, and Elective Affinities, at the Frick Collection, New York.

A painting with gold frame by Louis Michel Eilshemius. Landscape with single figure.

Eilshemius and Me: An Interview with Ed Ruscha

Ed Ruscha tells Viet-Nu Nguyen and Leta Grzan how he first encountered Louis Michel Eilshemius’s paintings, which of the artist’s aesthetic innovations captured his imagination, and how his own work relates to and differs from that “Neglected Marvel,” Eilshemius.

Piero Golia.


Alexander Wolf explores the economic, social, and methodological concerns of Piero Golia’s art practice, revealing the real-world implications of the artist’s experiments with form and process.

Left: Sally Mann, Self-Portrait, 1974; right: Jenny Saville in her studio, c. 1990s.

Sally Mann and Jenny Saville

The two artists discuss being drawn to difficult subjects, the effects of motherhood on their practice, embracing chance, and their shared adoration of Cy Twombly.

Time by Dance by Paik

Time by Dance by Paik

Gillian Jakab considers the role of choreography in Nam June Paik’s 1989 video installation Fin de Siècle II.

Transcendent Criminal Dream

Transcendent Criminal Dream

From Kids to his new film The Beach Bum, Harmony Korine has continually revolutionized the art of cinema. In a wide-ranging discussion with film critic Emmanuel Burdeau, Korine reflects on the rewards and challenges of filmmaking and reveals what’s in store for the future.

Losing Nothing: Arakawa and Madeline Gins

Losing Nothing: Arakawa and Madeline Gins

Mary Ann Caws reflects on the centrality of perception and imagination in Arakawa’s art, from his early diagrammatic paintings to his later architectural investigations with Madeline Gins.