Marcel Duchamp defies categorization. His conceptual investigations of art as idea undermined what he called the "retinal" or visual appeal of art. Throughout his career, he created editioned projects, many expressly intended to confound issues of originality and authorship. In all he completed one hundred fifty multiples, illustrated books, periodicals, prints, and posters.
Following his initial experimentation with Cubist painting in the early teens, Duchamp emerged as a fiercely independent figure in the Parisian and New York art worlds, encountering the Dada and Surrealist groups from time to time. Among the varied works in his oeuvre, he published three facsimile collections of his working notes. Self-published under the moniker of Duchamp's feminine alter ego, Rrose Sélavy, The Green Box was meant to be a complementary text for his 1915-23 work The Large Glass, now at the Philadelphia Museum of Art. But instead of explaining the iconography of this work, its contents are poetic and ambiguous, even cryptic, offering often contradictory meanings. In all there are ninety-four painstakingly reproduced notes and diagrams, on various sizes and types of paper, in different colored inks. There are also photographs of The Large Glass taken by Man Ray before it was accidentally broken in transit, and of dust collecting on one of its glass panels, as well as several reproductions of related works by Duchamp.
Originally executed between 1911 and 1920, these notes and sketches include ideas for The Large Glass, among them stories about the so-called Bride and Bachelors portrayed there. Duchamp wanted these notes to be presented in random order in The Green Box, so that each reader's individual choices and personal preferences could determine a chance sequence.
Publication excerpt from an essay by Harper Montgomery, in Deborah Wye, Artists and Prints: Masterworks from The Museum of Modern Art, New York: The Museum of Modern Art, 2004.