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4.35  ·  Rating details ·  430 ratings  ·  28 reviews
A New York Times Notable Book of 1996
Booklist Editor's Choice, 1996

The celebrated, full-scale life of the century's most influential artist. One of the giants of the twentieth century, Marcel Duchamp changed the course of modern art. Visual arts, music, dance, performance--nothing was ever the same again because he had shifted art's focus from the retinal to the mental. Du
Paperback, 560 pages
Published March 15th 1998 by Holt Paperbacks (first published 1996)
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Average rating 4.35  · 
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Frank McAdam
Nov 25, 2014 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: art-photography
No book in a long while has made me think as deeply about art as has Calvin Tomkins' excellent biography of Marcel Duchamp. Long before the end, it becomes apparent that it was Duchamp, not Picasso, who was the great artistic influence of the 20th century. Duchamp's constant refusal to see art as "retinal" and his insistence that any object made by anyone could be a work of art, made him a leading figure of movements as diverse as Surrealism and Pop. He had personal acquaintance with every impor ...more
Jun 14, 2020 rated it it was amazing
This review has been hidden because it contains spoilers. To view it, click here.
Seamus Thompson
May 26, 2012 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition

I see from other reviews that there is some discussion/debate about Tompkins' strengths as an art critic and whether his admiration for Duchamp goes too far. I can't speak to any of these concerns as this is the first book about Duchamp I have read.

What I can say is that as someone who had a slim but strong appreciation for Duchamp's work and knew almost nothing of his life and personality, I found this book to be readable, interesting, and insightful. I understand much more than I did before.
Jun 17, 2007 rated it did not like it  ·  review of another edition
typical tomkins survey/ hagiography/gossip minus the attempt at a more formal critique of specific works that stevens and swan attempt in de kooning
cabanne dialogues more interesting
Maya Man
Mar 15, 2019 rated it it was amazing
This book was really long and in depth but I suddey just NEEDED to know more about Duchamp. Tomkins is a crafty writer he kept it interesting. Now I am in Philadelphia because I want
to see all the Duchamp stuff it's museum of art has and also I am visiting Laura :-). I decided to pull out all of my pulls on the bus but jeez didn't realize there would be so many. Tomkins x Duchamp = some
good words to think about.

On the large glass: "Duchamp thought it should be approached as a mixture of verbal
Chris Browning
May 02, 2020 rated it it was amazing
In the excellent Ruth Brandon book on the surrealists, Marcel Duchamp hovers like a spectre over the action just occasionally shimmying into full view with an idea or concept that has probably the most influence on the thinking of the movements of Dada and surrealism. But he is hard to pin down, a phantom that Andre Breton desperately wants to cling to but never quite does

Duchamp is still pretty hard to read after reading this wonderful book. He feels like a sort of blur of an artist, almost co
Jan 11, 2021 rated it really liked it
When someone has charmed so many and a mythology has been built up around their greatness, when you actually look at the details of their life—at least in this case—you actually find their greatness and the trajectory of their life quite underwhelming. Perhaps this is reassuring to all of us who live less than "great" lives.

Bursting the Myth Spoilers as Purposed by Tompkins:

•Duchamp didn't quit art to play chess as much as he ran out of ideas and didn't want to repeat himself

•He was always very
Diego Cascón Castro
Resulta realmente abrumadora la cantidad de información que Tomkins recopila sobre Duchamp. Posiblemente a partir de cientos de conversaciones con algunos de los protagonistas de la propia historia de Duchamp, que es en realidad el relato de la historia del arte del siglo XX, junto al estudio de toda la documentación y archivos personales.
Quizás lo único que hace que no le de la máxima calificación es que se trata de una obra escrita desde una óptica periodística y no desde el punto de vista del
Nov 18, 2017 rated it really liked it
I'm taking a class on Duchamp right now and this effortlessly readable biography has been such a fun companion to the more theoretical things I've been assigned. Seems pretty exhaustively researched, is humorous and entertaining, and is also great at discussing the various main interpretations of Duchamp's work and legacy. ...more
Kevin McDonagh
Sep 17, 2017 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: art
The authoritative Biography on the original "non-artist". Until the very end, Dandyish Duchamp was determined to live a life of full of fun and optimism. His antics are awe inspiring as they are heart warming. ...more
Aug 09, 2017 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
É um livro rico de fatos e descrições de uma época em que a arte esta dando largos passos, se transformando e transformando o mundo. Duchamp é um homem muito interessante e lúcido. Recomendo para quem gosta de biografia, uma dose de história e quer entender como a arte dos dias atuais foi gestada.
David Ryan
Mar 12, 2021 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Attempting to unravel the life and art of this influential artist is no easy assignment but my favorite writer/critic is up to the task. Duchamp is well served in this definitive, superbly, well-written biography. See also: "Living Well Is The Best Revenge." ...more
Nov 29, 2020 rated it it was amazing
An excellent and absorbing read which I loved. Calvin Tomkins has written a detailed and thought provoking book about the life and works of the most influential - and yet often least understandable - artist of the 20th Century.
Oct 30, 2019 rated it it was amazing
"It's always the others who die". ...more
Thet Swe
Oct 20, 2020 rated it it was amazing
"May be it's all just an illusion. We are so fond of ourselves, we think we are little gods of the earth---I have my doubts, that's all." ...more
Noah Switalski
Oct 12, 2019 rated it really liked it
just the right amount of sex jokes to really keep you reading
Nov 02, 2019 rated it it was amazing
Great introduction to Duchamp. It was key to my understanding. There is a complementary Biography by Bernard Marcadé.
Dec 22, 2008 rated it it was ok
Although he was sociable and a leader in the Village art scene for decades, Duchamp always kept himself a bit aloof and didn't reveal all that much about his thinking or his personal life. This makes a biographer's job difficult. Tompkins does his level best to provide a context for the work, but while he uncovers information about how the work came into being (as in his account of the famous "Fountain" readymade) and does a good job of describing the formal qualities of individual pieces, he do ...more
hey, WHO DID I LOAN THIS TO? Goodreads graciously downloaded the books I bought from Amazon, and since they don't come up on any list that I can get to, I had to go to Amazon to see what I actually bought when once I had money and didn't "borrow" books, myself, here and there.... so here I am, looking at a book cover of a book I am said to have purchased; yet, it is not with me. Who has it? Did someone take it while I was away? Who have I given this liberty to? WHO WHO???? WHERE IS DUCHAMP'S BIO ...more
Maria Gambale
Mar 05, 2013 rated it really liked it
A totally readable, casual set of interviews by someone who's comfortable enough with Duchamp to call him out on some funny little b.s. moments, but not so smart as to be able to really go deep into some of the trickier philosophies. I didn't expect a deep artistic analysis and I got in spades what I expected - a bit of insight into the thinking of Duchamp and the human being he was. ...more
Dec 21, 2014 rated it did not like it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: biography, art
I wanted to know why Duchamp gave up art to play chess. Tomkins states he isn't going to speculate about Duchamp's interior life, and he sticks to his word. There are many facts about his day to day life, but after while it gets boring. ...more
Oct 27, 2008 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: other-nonfiction
Tomkins, along with Octavio Paz, is the foremost expert on all things Duchampian. I enjoyed this biography, because -- even through the cold, hard stare of the art historian and critic -- you can hear Tomkins' awe and admiration for the man I feel is 20th century's most important artist. ...more
Sep 22, 2008 added it
I like the exhaustive biographical research put into this book, but Tompkins unabashed hero worship of Duchamp has been taken a bit too far, despite the long shadow Duchamp has cast upon art.
Mar 15, 2008 rated it it was amazing
Recommends it for: art nerds
Very readable biography that immerses you in the world Duchamp lived in and explains the way Etant Donne got made.
Megan Kirschenbaum
Dec 15, 2016 rated it really liked it
A great biography of a very influential man by a very important art critic. The more I learned the more I liked Duchamp less, but that makes for an interesting read. A must read for any art lover.
Jan 03, 2008 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
This is the best Duchamp bio. I've read. A little rambling at times but awesome if you're into Dada or any other ism. ...more
Feb 12, 2008 rated it it was amazing
A favorite. I could read it every day.
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Dec 02, 2008
Alyn Turner
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Alexander Keren
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Calvin Tomkins has been a staff writer for The New Yorker since 1960. He wrote his first fiction piece for the magazine in 1958, and his first fact piece in 1962. His many Profile subjects have included Marcel Duchamp, John Cage, Robert Rauschenberg, Merce Cunningham, Buckminster Fuller, Philip Johnson, Julia Child, Georgia O’Keeffe, Leo Castelli, Frank Stella, Carmel Snow, Christo and Jeanne-Clau ...more

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