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Why Not Sneeze, Rose Sélavy?

1921
Marcel Duchamp, American (born France), 1887 - 1968

Marcel Duchamp turned to ordinary manufactured objects in order to distance himself from traditional definitions of an artwork, the artist, and the creative act. Why Not Sneeze, Rose Sélavy? is a particularly elaborate example of the genre he called "readymade," mass-produced items that gained new and unexpected meanings when Duchamp exhibited them, sometimes with cryptic inscriptions or titles.


The container is a painted metal birdcage with vertical bars clipped to lower its height. Inside are 152 simulation sugar cubes, which are actually cubes of marble procured from hardware stores as a means for removing built-up lime scale inside teakettles. Duchamp liked the amusing contradiction between light sugar and heavy marble. A mercury thermometer makes a joke on the marble’s coldness. In the cage are also two small glass dishes, and a cuttlebone—food for the absent bird—that sticks out through the bars. The absurdist title, written in block letters on the underside, highlights the name of Duchamp’s female artistic alter ego.

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Object Details
Katherine S. Dreier (1877-1952), Milford, CT; sold through Marcel Duchamp as agent to Louise Arensberg (1879-1953) and Walter C. Arensberg (1878-1954), Los Angeles, 1934 [1]; gift to the Philadelphia Museum of Art, 1950.1. See provenance notes by Duchamp dated September 8, 1951 (PMA, Arensberg Archives).

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