From now until mid-January 2017, Galerie Thaddaeus Ropac is hosting one of five remaining original Porte-bouteilles (or Bottle Rack), the 'readymade' signed by Marcel Duchamp. The iconic galvanised steel sculpture has arrived from the Robert Rauschenberg Foundation, which selected the Paris gallery to oversee its sale to a public institution.
This particular readymade carries unique provenance, dating back to 1959 when Duchamp and Rauschenberg were featured in an exhibit titled 'Art and the Found Object' at the Time-Life Reception Center in New York. As the story goes, Duchamp reached out to Man Ray to borrow a previous version from 1935-36. Upon hearing that that the photographer had lost it, Duchamp asked him to pick up another at the Grand Bazar de l’Hôtel de Ville (the one-stop department shop now known as BHV) and send it to the US. Rauschenberg subsequently purchased it for $3.
Today, en route to viewing Porte-bouteilles, located in the gallery’s uppermost corner room, visitors will pass through a presentation Rauschenberg’s Salvage series (his last works on canvas completed between 1983-85), in addition to an exhibition of Duchamp materials that build the anticipation and contribute to the rich narrative. After all, 2016 marks 100 years since Duchamp’s first recorded use of the word 'readymade'.
A vitrine filled with other works that relate directly to Duchamp's bottle dryer.
There’s Box in a Valise, which consists of miniature replicas of his works through 1964; photos of Rauschenberg’s studio where Bottle Rack appears stationed on the floor; and four pink sheets of lined paper filled with Rauschenberg’s uppercase lettering in which he recounts how he acquired the sculpture while pondering ‘the philosophical, aesthetic or ethical reasons why, how or if I could ask Duchamp to sign [it].’ To wit, when he finally asked Duchamp, who was in the presence of his wife Alexina ‘Teenie’ Sattler, she apparently replied, ‘Of course, Marcel will sign anything.’
And not only did he sign his initials with the year 1960, he scrawled the words – translated here from French – ‘Impossible for me to recall the original phrase.’ This self-referential inscription nods to the fate of his first purchased bottle rack from 1914, which disappeared around the time his sister was moving the contents of his studio in Paris (Duchamp decamped to New York during the war). The famous letter to his sister two years later, in which he refers to the object as a ‘readymade’ and instructs her to paint the lower ring with an inscription, also lost, has been screened on the gallery wall adjacent to the one we see today. No doubt, some visitors will enquire whether this enlarged facsimile is also for sale.
Up close, Bottle Rack reveals a hint of grime on its dull, grey surface, deliberately undisturbed as if attesting to its lifespan. Suspended in space from a single cable around the top ring and lit from two ceiling sources, the sculpture’s slight tilt and corresponding shadows position it with surprising character – simultaneously surrealist and cinematic. Gallery curator José Castañel tells Wallpaper* they tested positioning it on the floor and a plinth before settling on this more animated display.
‘Shadows were important to Duchamp,’ explains Castañel, noting how the artist was constantly exploring the relation and representation of dimensions. ‘It has to do with what is hidden and what you see. Do the two-dimensional shadows show a truer representation than the three-dimensional object?’
Thanks to the work’s future home in a public museum – the gallery will only confirm ‘very serious discussions with one institution’ – it’s a question that a wider audience will have an opportunity to answer.
’Porte-bouteilles’ is on view until 14 January 2017. For more information, visit the Galerie Thaddaeus Ropac website (opens in new tab)
Galerie Thaddaeus Ropac Paris Marais
7 Rue Debelleyme
VIEW GOOGLE MAPS (opens in new tab)
Last chance to see: Laure Prouvost's Light Hall commission at National Museum in Oslo
The Turner Prize-winning artist takes over the cavernous space atop Oslo’s new National Museum with an ethereal installation
By Will Jennings • Published
In memoriam: Paco Rabanne (1934 – 2023)
Spanish designer Paco Rabanne, known for his visionary ‘Space Age’ fashion and experimental fragrances, has died aged 88
By Jack Moss • Published
Zara launches playful beauty line for kids
Mini Artists by Zara Beauty is a new line of kid-friendly face paints and water-soluble nail polishes designed with Diane Kendal
By Mary Cleary • Published
Paris art exhibitions: a guide to exhibitions this weekend
As Emily in Paris fever puts the city of love at the centre of the cultural map, stay-up-to-date with our guide to the best Paris art exhibitions
By Harriet Lloyd-Smith • Published
Cyprien Gaillard on chaos, reorder and excavating a Paris in flux
We interviewed French artist Cyprien Gaillard ahead of his major two-part show, ‘Humpty \ Dumpty’ at Palais de Tokyo and Lafayette Anticipations (until 8 January 2023). Through abandoned clocks, love locks and asbestos, he dissects the human obsession with structural restoration
By Harriet Lloyd-Smith • Published
Christo and Jeanne-Claude’s final work, L‘Arc de Triomphe, Wrapped, is preserved in a new limited-edition book
A new book ‘Christo and Jeanne-Claude, L’Arc de Triomphe, Wrapped, Paris’, chronicles how the artists’ final work, 60 years in the making, came to fruition
By Harriet Lloyd-Smith • Published
Remembering Pierre Soulages (1919-2022), a pioneer of post-war abstraction
Pierre Soulages, the pioneering French printmaker, sculptor and ‘painter of black’, has died aged 102
By Diane Theunissen • Published
Alicja Kwade’s installation ‘brings the stars down’ onto Place Vendôme
Polish-German artist Alicja Kwade has adorned Place Vendôme with an interactive installation comprising natural stone spheres and concrete stairs, as part of the Paris+ par Art Basel ‘Sites’ project
By Flora Vesterberg • Last updated
Ugo Rondinone reflects on bodies and nature at Petit Palais
Swiss artist Ugo Rondinone takes over the beaux-arts halls of the Petit Palais with a monumental film installation and sculptures of trapeze dancers
By Jessica Klingelfuss • Last updated
Guerlain’s flagship Paris boutique becomes a stage for female art activism
Coinciding with Paris+ par Art Basel, heritage perfume house Guerlain is hosting ‘Les Militantes’, a multigenerational, international group show of pioneering women artists at its flagship boutique on Avenue des Champs-Élysées
By Harriet Lloyd-Smith • Last updated
Reclaim the Earth, urge artists at Paris’ Palais de Tokyo
We discover the group exhibition ‘Reclaim the Earth’, a wake-up call for humans to reconsider our relationship with the planet (until 4 September 2022)
By Amy Serafin • Last updated