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Live, dream and think like Duchamp with his manual for living


e goes by many names and as far as we (don’t) know he may have been a charlatan. For some he was the ultimate anti-artist, for many others a guru, and in his hater’s minds a ruthless impostor. However, there is a certain quality that he deserves to be attributed with: He is one of the founders of modern art. Despite Marcel Duchamp’s (1887-1968) popularity, and the fact that the controversy around his works remains a focal point in art history circles for almost a century, most of the books on him didn't manage to capture the vastness of his spirit. Until now. Thanks to the excellent work of Thomas Girst “The Duchamp Dictionary”, which explores the artist’s life and work in a thoroughly new, vibrant, quite engaging manner. The artist’s most interesting and important artworks, his relationships, the people in his life and the ideas in his mind are all listed here in short, alphabetical dictionary entries.

"The idea of the dictionary clearly appealed to Duchamp, as it did to the Surrealists, many of whom were his close friends" explains Girst in the introduction of the 224-pages-long book that is published by coincidence the same period with multiple global exhibitions celebrating the 100th anniversary of Duchamp’s “the readymade”Girst (the Head of Cultural Engagement at the BMW Group since 2003 and founding editor of Tout-Fait: The Marcel Duchamp Studies Online Journal) has written extensively about Duchamp so it was easy for him to interweave the artist’s quotes into “dictionary” entries that will appeal to the Duchamp novice and expert alike.

The prose is unpretentious and the structure of the book is complimentary to Duchamp's “art was not in need of verbal translation” 

The prose is jargon-free, unpretentious. The structure is complimentary to Duchamp's belief that “art was not in need of verbal translation” and the narrative is non linear, as if it was edited by the word that is printed on page 42. “Chance is the only way to avoid the control of the rational, [chance alone could] express what is unique and indeterminate about us” claims the man who, in the words of Swiss contemporary artist Thomas Hirschhorn, was "the most intelligent mind of his time." From “Chocolate,” to “Love,” “Lovers,” and “Luck” -in exact order of appearance-, from alchemy and anatomy to Warhol and windows, “The Duchamp Dictionary” seeks to enlighten readers amid revelations on the depth of the man and his conceptual creations.

The publication, which according to Richard Armstrong, Director Guggenheim Museum and Foundation, "elegantly unravels the skeins of Duchamp’s thinking is exquisitely illustrated" with 65 amazing works in two-colour form by the artists Luke Frost and Therese Vandling of the Heretic typographic clan, deserves to be read from A to Z. “This is an art-historical and spellbinding page-turner like never before” insists Thomas Girst and there is not a single reason not to concur with him. Marcel Duchamp led a riotous secret life and so can you.

The Duchamp Dictionary is available from Thames & Hudson.