Author: Bert Jansen
In early 1935 Marcel Duchamp wrote to the artist, patron and collector Katherine Dreier, who owned Le Grand Verre (1915-23), and told her that he had two projects in mind in which he wanted to hark back to earlier work. The first was the reproduction of his oeuvre in a miniature museum, which would lead to La boîte-en-valise. The second project revisited the rotating discs he used for the 1926 film Anémic Cinéma, in which spinning discs with spiral patterns alternated with discs on which plays on words and sentences were written. The six discs in the museum’s collection are printed on both sides with the same spiral pattern, which when spun on a gramophone turntable give a suggestion of depth. Duchamp called them a ‘little game’ in his letter to Dreier. And like his lithograph Obligation de Monte Carlo, he wanted to market them outside the art world.
After registering the trademark on 9 May 1935, he had an edition of five hundred made. He presented them at the inventors’ fair Concours Lépine in Paris on 30 August 1935, but they aroused no interest. Duchamp then decided to show the discs to the art world after all, by publishing an article by his friend Gabrielle Buffet in Cahiers d’Art. A number of Rotoreliefs were printed in colour alongside the article. The title of the piece, ‘Coeurs Volants’ (flying hearts), explained Duchamp’s design for the magazine’s cover: three hearts in alternating red and blue, partially overlapping. The difference in colour creates an optical tremor. The composition can be seen as the manifestation of the electrifying vibration between Duchamp and Buffet. Their friendship, which went back to 1911, developed into a love affair in 1921. Alongside Buffet’s article, there was an explanation by an engineer about the physiological effect of this optical vibration between the red that appears to come to the fore and the blue that seems to recede, which is also contained in the term coeurs volants.
Duchamp used the optical discs again later. In 1953 he had an edition of a thousand made, of which no fewer than six hundred were destroyed by mistake. In 1959 he gave the last hundred to the artist Daniel Spoerri, who used them in his project Edition MAT (Multiplication d’Art Transformable) from 1959 on. The objective of this project was to produce objects by famous artists as inexpensively as possible. These multiples, as they are called, would form the start of a view about the relative meaning and value of the uniqueness of an artwork – a characteristic point of departure for much art in the 1960s.