The original Bicycle wheel was made in Paris in 1913. It was Duchamp's first Ready-made. In an interview with Pierre Cabanne, however, Duchamp noted that 'the word readymade did not appear until 1915, when I went to the United States. It was an interesting word, but when I put a bicycle wheel on a stool, the fork down, there was no idea of a "readymade" or anything else. It was just a distraction. I didn't have any special reason to do it, or any intention of showing it, or describing anything'.1
Duchamp later claimed that the reason for its fabrication was very simple:
To see the wheel turning was very soothing, very comforting, a sort of opening of avenues on other things than material life of every day. I liked the idea of having a bicycle wheel in my studio. I enjoyed looking at it just as I enjoy looking at the flames dancing in a fireplace. It was like having a fireplace in my studio, the movement of the wheel reminded me of the movement of the flames.2
Although Duchamp valued the Ready-mades he did not attach great importance to them as unique objects, and was content to produce a second or third version without any attempt to exactly duplicate the first. Thus, when the original Bicycle wheel was lost after Duchamp left for New York in 1915, he made a second version (now lost) the following year.3 A third version was produced for Sidney and Harriet Janis in 1951 and is now in the Museum of Modern Art, New York. The Moderna Museet, Stockholm, holds the fourth version, made by Ulf Linde and P.O. Ultvedt in 1960, and a fifth version was made by Richard Hamilton, London, in 1963. The example in the Gallery's collection is from an edition of eight produced by Galleria Schwarz, Milan, in 1964 with Duchamp's agreement. Two further examples from this edition were reserved for Duchamp and Arturo Schwarz, with a final example being presented to the Philadelphia Museum of Art.
Michael Lloyd & Michael Desmond European and American Paintings and Sculptures 1870-1970 in the Australian National Gallery 1992 p.114.
- Pierre Cabanne, Dialogues with Marcel Duchamp, London: Thames and Hudson, 1971, p.47.
- Arturo Schwartz, The Complete works of Marcel Duchamp, London: Thames and Hudson, 1969, p.442.
- 'When I moved from rue Saint-Hippolyte to leave for the United States', Duchamp explained later, 'my sister and sister-in-law took everything out, threw it in the garbage, and said no more about it'; Cabanne, op/cit., p.47.
Text © National Gallery of Australia, Canberra 2010