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Marcel Duchamp. Rotary Demisphere (Precision Optics). Paris, 1925

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Marcel Duchamp (American, born France. 1887–1968)

Rotary Demisphere (Precision Optics)

Paris, 1925
Painted papier-mâché demisphere fitted on velvet-covered disk, copper collar with plexiglass dome, motor, pulley, and metal stand
58 1/2 x 25 1/4 x 24" (148.6 x 64.2 x 60.9 cm)
Credit Line:
Gift of Mrs. William Sisler and Edward James Fund
MoMA Number:
© 2015 Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York / ADAGP, Paris / Estate of Marcel Duchamp
Audio Program excerpt

Inventing Abstraction, 1910–1925

, December 23, 2012–April 15, 2013

Curator, Ann Temkin: Marcel Duchamp often spoke of his interest in destabilizing vision. To achieve this, he made a series of optical machines meant to engage vision's less rational side.

Curator, Leah Dickerman: The rotary demisphere that Marcel Duchamp made is a kinetic object that moves with the goal of producing optical effects. Viewers were instructed to stand directly opposite the machine, a meter away. The spiral pattern painted on the wooden hemisphere when it was rotated, created pulsing sensations an optical effect created entirely by the eye. Vision is produced internally, and what Duchamp is doing with the rotary demisphere is creating a kind of vision that doesn’t have anything to do with what's out there in the world.

Duchamp created a copper cover to protect his painted dome, and he had it engraved with a pun. Rrose Sélavy et moi esquivons les ecchymoses des esquimaux aux mots exquis. "Rrose Sélavy and I escape from the bruises of Eskimos in exquisite words." Rrose Sélavy is Marcel Duchamp's pseudonym, a feminine alter ego that he adopted in 1924.

Ann Temkin: While working on the rotary demisphere, Duchamp collaborated on a film with Man Ray and Marc Allegret, called Anemic Cinema. This film is projected above. In it, he again paired rotating spiral forms with punning texts. In taking his practice beyond the painted picture and delving into a dissociated, cognitive realm, Duchamp explored the larger implications of abstraction.

Leah Dickerman: I think this is the legacy of abstraction, that vision is no longer tethered to the things in the world, and language is no longer tethered with fixed meanings.

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