Sign up for our free newsletter
Free D.C. news, delivered to your inbox daily.
Enough with the Marcel Duchamp exegesis; what we need is the dirt. However decent a fellow he is, the New Yorker’s Calvin Tompkins is rather thorough, so while his compellingly readable new biography might deny us some modernist muckraking, we do get to find out what Duchamp was up to when he wasn’t playing chess. Actually, we find out a lot about chess, too, not all of it heartening. Isn’t it rather a letdown to discover that the 20th century’s leading anti-art avatar placed seventh in the 1927 French championships at Chamonix, even after neglecting his new wife to hone his skills at a tournament in Nice? That first of Duchamp’s marriages was even more ill-fated. On June 8, 1927, the artist married Lydie Sarazin-Levassor (pictured), the daughter of an industrialist. The union proved less lucrative than Duchamp had initially supposed, and he never quite warmed to his spouse; the couple divorced in January of the next year. Not that Tomkins slights Duchamp’s art in favor of his personal life, but he does put things into proper perspective, revealing that Faulty Landscape, a small, uncharacteristic abstraction the artist made as a gift for Maria Martins, an artist and diplomat’s wife he had an affair with, was painted in semen, and noting, “Generally overlooked in the ongoing analysis and microanalysis of Duchamp’s wordplay is that it is play.” Tomkins reads from Duchamp: A Biography and signs at 4 p.m. at the National Gallery of Art’s East Building Auditorium, 4th & Constitution Ave. NW. FREE. (202) 737-4215. (Glenn Dixon)