In March 1953 Michael Freilich, owner of the Roko Gallery in Greenwich Village, asked twenty-eight year-old Victor Obsatz (1925—2019) to photograph Marcel Duchamp in his apartment at 210 West 14th Street. A double exposure occurred by chance, creating an overlay of Duchamp’s playful smile and iconic profile. The resulting image pleased Duchamp very much, as he chose it for both the front and back cover of Robert Lebel’s 1959 catalogue raisonné.
Until 1999 the authorship of this portrait was unknown, with some scholars arguing that Victor Obsatz was in fact a pseudonym for Duchamp himself. The work has since become one of the most well-known and sought-after images of the artist, and has been reproduced in many texts on Duchamp, Dada, and Surrealism, including the National Portrait Gallery’s 2009 exhibition catalogue “Inventing Marcel Duchamp: The Dynamics of Portraiture.”
The portrait weaves together many of the defining themes of Duchamp’s life and career, engaging his lifelong fascination with self-representation and the construction of a multifaceted artistic persona. It also reflects his interest in multiple-exposure photography and the possibilities it represents for depicting the fourth dimension, strikingly visualized in the artist’s famous Nude Descending a Staircase of 1912. Recognizing the connection between the two works, Duchamp included the portrait in his recreation of the painting for Bamberger’s department store, interweaving biography, art, and portraiture. The combination of frontal and profile views recalls the mug shots used in his 1923 Wanted: $2,000 Reward, and is emblematic of his concept of the hinge. It is possible that the portrait may have served as a source of inspiration for Duchamp himself; his 1957 Self-Portrait in Profile features the same sharply delineated black-on-white profile in silhouette. Like much of Duchamp’s work, the image, both through medium and composition, addresses the themes of repetition and reproduction. Obsatz undercuts the serious tone of traditional portraiture with humor and playfulness.
Portrait of Marcel Duchamp is available for sale exclusively through Moeller Fine Art New York—Berlin. All prints are signed and dated by the artist.
© Victor Obsatz / Moeller Fine Art / New York – Berlin