Author: Bert Jansen
In this colour lithograph, Marcel Duchamp’s face is superimposed on an image of a roulette wheel. The original photograph was taken by Man Ray. Duchamp’s chin and the sides of his face are covered with shaving foam, which also forms two horns on his head: a reference to the winged helmet of Mercury, the Roman god of trade. The first version of this lithograph dates from 1924, the period when Duchamp was reconsidering his artistic calling. He stopped working on Le Grand Verre (1915-23), which he signed in an unfinished state. Instead he tried to forge a career as a chess player and, with his friends and fellow artists Man Ray and Francis Picabia, sought possible ways of introducing moving images and film as an art form (Rotoreliefs: optical discs). He also began signing his works with an alter ego, Rose Sélavy (‘Rose is life’), later Rrose (pronounced Eros). This lithograph is signed by Rrose Sélavy as the president of the Board of Management and by Marcel Duchamp as the manager. The choice of a female disguise can be explained as a way of relativizing the maker’s genius. According to Duchamp, the maker only had to bring the work into the world. By opting for a female pseudonym for this role, he made a comparison with a mother who, unlike a father, did not need any DNA to establish maternity.
Duchamp got the idea for the bond during a chess tournament in Monte Carlo. The plan was, as the articles of association on the back state, to ‘exploit’ the casino in Monte Carlo and other goldmines along the Riviera. Duchamp claimed that he had developed a profitable system for playing the tables. With the proceeds he would be able to pay an annual dividend of twenty percent to the buyer of the bond. The work reflected Duchamp’s desire to use chance in his work. Obligation de Monte Carlo was also an attempt to operate outside the art market. This is why he preferred to work with a patron who gave him an annual allowance in exchange for artworks. Only two of the original lithographs were sold at that time. After six months Duchamp informed his patron, the fashion designer Jacques Doucet, that playing bored him and paid him a once-only ten percent interest. Most of the other bonds from the edition of thirty have been lost.
In 1938, when the art magazine XXième Siècle asked Duchamp for a contribution for the Christmas edition, he sent Obligation de Monte Carlo. In addition to the print run of two thousand for the magazine, he had three hundred extra copies printed for La boîte-en-valise, for which he was collecting material at that time. Later Duchamp also printed the bond on the cover of the book published to coincide with the launch of the replicas of his readymades in 1964 at Galleria Schwarz in Milan (Marcel Duchamp, Ready-Mades etc. (1913-1964)).