This work consists of a box containing miniature replicas of three of Duchamp's Ready-mades: Paris Air 1919, Traveller's folding item 1916, and Fountain 1917, and sixty-eight printed reproductions of other works by the artist. The box is assembled in such a way that various parts slide out, fold out, or are lifted out for display to create a 'miniature museum'. The box is printed on the lid 'de ou par / Marcel Duchamp / ou / Rrose Sélavy' (from or by Marcel Duchamp or Rrose Sélavy).1
In an interview in 1955 Duchamp explained that:
It was a new form of expression for me. Instead of painting something the idea was to reproduce the paintings that I loved so much in miniature. I didn't know how to do it. I thought of a book, but I didn't like that idea. Then I thought of the idea of the box in which all my works would be mounted like a small museum, a portable museum, so to speak, and here it is in this valise.2
The various reproductions incorporated in the box, and the necessary components of the box itself, were produced between 1936 and 1940, first in Paris and then, during 1940, in Bordeaux and Arcachon.3 The reproductions were made in editions of 300. Rather than use the speedy reproduction techniques that were already available, Duchamp opted for an elaborate and obsolescent method - collotype printing with colouring applied by hand through stencils (pochoirs).
The first Box in a valise - the first of a deluxe edition enclosed in a leather valise and individually numbered and dedicated by Duchamp, I/XX to XX/XX - was completed in Paris at the end of 1940. Duchamp assembled perhaps five more boxes in this edition before sailing for New York in May 1942. During the next eight years in the United States he completed the deluxe edition and with the assistance of others, about 80 further boxes were completed without the leather valise. In March 1955 Duchamp sent most of the material for the rest of the boxes back to Paris. The remaining boxes from the ordinary edition, that is, without the leather valise, were issued in five groups between 1958 and 1968, each group distinguished by various modifications to the construction and distinctive coloured linen colouring. With the exception of the group of 30 copies issued in 1958 and assembled by Ilia Zdanevitch, all copies were assembled by Duchamp's step-daughter, Jacqueline Monnier. She completed the last in the edition of 300 boxes in March 1971.
The box in the Australian National Gallery is not covered and its construction is consistent with those boxes assembled in New York between 1942 and 1954. However there is an oddity about this box that is difficult to explain. The reproductions of Mariée (Bride) that appear in the boxes were printed in Paris in September 1937. In October 1937 a number of pochoir-coloured reproductions of Mariée were signed and dated by Duchamp over a 5-centimetre revenue stamp, apparently as gifts to friends. Unlike the normal reproductions in the box, these signed versions of Mariée are not varnished and are slightly larger. The Gallery's box contains one of these signed reproductions of Mariée.
Michael Lloyd & Michael Desmond European and American Paintings and Sculptures 1870-1970 in the Australian National Gallery 1992 p.122.
- Arturo Schwarz catalogues the editions of this work under the title, 'From or by Marcel Duchamp or Rrose Sélavy / [The Box in a Valise]' (Arturo Schwartz, The Complete works of Marcel Duchamp, London: Thames and Hudson, 1969, cat. no. 311, pp.511-13). However, all other major commentators, including Duchamp in various interviews, refer to this work under the title 'the box in a valise', or the French title 'Boîte-en-Valise'. While Duchamp was still assembling the first deluxe edition Peggy Guggenheim's Art of This Century Gallery placed an advertisement in the publication V.V.V. (March 1943, p.137), announcing the limited edition and giving it the title 'Boîte-en-Valise'. A year later an illustration of one of the deluxe editions appeared in Sidney Janis' Abstract & Surrealist Art in America, New York: Reynal and Hitchcock, 1944, p.131. The illustration is captioned 'Boîte-en-Valise' 1941-42'.
- Michael Sanouillet and Elmer Peterson (eds), The Essential Writings of Marcel Duchamp, London: Thames and Hudson, 1975, p.136.
- The history of the Boîte-en-Valise is covered in great detail in Ecke Bonk, Marcel Duchamp: The Portable Museum, London: Thames and Hudson 1989.
Text © National Gallery of Australia, Canberra 2010