Marcel Duchamp's Boites-en-valise: Collaboration and conservation

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Publication Type:

Journal Article


Campbell, Brenna; Leveque, Elodie; Jue, Erin;


Studies in Conservation, Volume 57, Number S1, p.52-60 (2012)


Between 1941 and 1968, Marcel Duchamp produced a series of roughly 300 boxes, or Boîtes, containing, in his words, ‘everything important that I have done’ (Sargeant, W. 1952. Dada's Daddy: A New Tribute is Paid to Duchamp, Pioneer of Nonsense and Nihilism. Life, 32(17): 102). Over the course of 30 years and seven editions, Duchamp and his assistants filled these ‘portable museums’ with miniature reproductions of his most significant works. The materials used included leather, paper, cloth, metal, glass, ceramic, cellulose acetate, gouache, varnish, and wood. The variety of the constituent materials, and the complex physical and conceptual ways in which they interact, make conservation treatment of the Boîtes unusually challenging. The conservator must consider both the condition of the specific Boîte being treated and its relationship to the dozens of other Boîtes still in existence. After an overview of the history and manufacture of Duchamp's miniature museum, the results of a pilot survey of the condition of 19 Boîtes will be presented, and treatment solutions to the most common condition problems proposed.