MARCEL DUCHAMP, Contrepetrie, 1968 [vinyl record on empty portfolio]
ca 28 x 18 x 2 cm / ca 11 x 7 x 0.8 inches
relief letters Esquivons les ecchymoses des esquimaux aux mots exquis
vinyl record 7’0”, glued on relief print, stiff paper portfolio
edition ca 2000
published by The Letter Edged in Black Press Inc. / S.M.S. – William Copley, New York 1968
condition: pristine, although with a very light brownish horizontal line on cover
rare in this condition
€ 1.450,- plus € 18,- Track & Trace registered mail
7′ recording of contrepetrie
This is one of the very last works that French artist Marcel Duchamp (1887–1968) created during his lifetime. It is a recording of his voice reciting French word games, known as contrepètries, which play with the sounds of words. The phonograph record presents an absurd alliterative sentence written in a spiral, that could translate to “We dodge the bruises of the Eskimos in exquisite words.”
S.M.S., short for “Shit Must Stop,” endeavoured to do just that. Founded in New York City by artist, collector and dealer William Copley. S.M.S. was an art collection in a folio, filled with contributions of the artists invited by Copley. Regardless of stature, each was paid US$ 100,- for their contribution.
‘In 1967, in response to William Copley’s request to contribute to S.M.S., Duchamp gave him a sound recording (present location, unknown) he had made at an amusement booth around 1950. For the label of the record, they conceived of using a facsimile of one of the Disks Inscribed With Puns, 1926 (cat. no. 415-23), that Duchamp used in his film Anemic Cinema, 1926-26 (cat. no. 424).’ Arturo Schwarz
The SMS portfolios were a collaboration between William Copley & Dmitri Petrov which they published through their Letter Edged in Black Press Inc., working with some of the most important artists of the twentieth century. Exemplifying the community ethos of the ’60s, Copley sought to produce a new form of art journal that would bypass traditional institutions to distribute the artist’s work directly to its audience instead. Copley accepted contributions in almost any medium, carefully reproducing each artwork in his Upper West Side studio. All contributors, from the world-renowned to the obscure, received the same sum of $100 for their work. Presented without comment, each portfolio was mailed directly to subscribers every two months. Only six portfolios were produced, in an edition of 2000. Each portfolio contained from eleven to thirteen artist objects.
This SMS #2 edition is a seven-minute recording by Duchamp of “contrepetrie,” a word play involving transposing words, letters, and syllables and their sounds to make puns and effect new meanings. Record is part of S.M.S. magazine No.2 – April 1968.
History of prices:
1stDibs, New York, USA € 5.346,- September 2023 (make offer)
eBay-feltown2015, Madrid, Spain € 1.400,- September 2023
Akim Monet Fine Arts, Dallas/Los Angeles, USA US$ 1,000.- September 2022
Gerrish Fine Art, England GBP 1,250.- March 2020
Akim Monet Fine Arts, Los Angeles, USA, April 2020, US$ 2,000.-
Stubbs Fine Art, UK, March 2020, GBP 950.-
Wright Auction, Chicago, USA, 18 January 2018, US$ 500.- incl. premium
Original content of the empty portfolio S.M.S. issue # 2 as shown above:
The magazine came in the shape of a white folder which contained art multiples – here not for sale – by the following artists:
1. Nicolas Calas 2. Bruce Connor 3. Marcia Herscovitz 4. Alain Jacquet 5. Ray Johnson 6. Lee Lozano 7. Meret Oppenheim 8. Bernard Pfreim 9. George Reavey 10. Clovis Trouille 11. Marcel Duchamp (the record).
Magazine cover reads “A guest + a host = a ghost, Marcel Duchamp 1953”.
Record is fixed with nut and bolt to the magazine.
Part of a folio of artist multiples, Marcel Duchamp’s piece works on at least two levels. One side of this disc features a short word game printed on black paper which covers the area of any grooves. The text “esquivons les ecchymoses esquimeaux aux mots exquis” (trans. ‘Let us dodge the bruises of the Eskimoes in exquisite words’). It is based on an element in Duchamp’s anagrammatically named filmplays on the similarity of the sound of words with quite different meaning and is one of the many circular texts seen rotating on similar discs in Duchamp’s film “Anemic Cinema”. The whole series of text is read by Duchamp on the opposite side of the disc in a 7 minute recording. While almost all are in French, Duchamp does include a single example in English: “my niece is cold because my knees are cold” which helps convey the sense of word play inherent in these pieces, and in fact in much of Duchamp’s work. The reading and circular representation of one of the texts display the circular aspects of these pieces which draw their sly humor from internal references within each stanza. While published in 1968, the recording sounds much older due to its thin quality, and may in fact have necessarily drawn from an archival source as Duchamp passed away that year. Adding to this, the record is haunted by a large amount of surface noise as the playing side was mounted directly to the folder cover enclosing SMS No. 2 leaving the surface exposed to more abuse. The combination of the fidelity and surface noise leaves the record sounding like an older 78 shellac disc even after extensively cleaning. Nonetheless, it is still an important document given the scant number of recordings of Duchamp’s calm speaking voice.
The work ‘Contrepetrie’ is mounted on a portfolio in which SMS # 2 was issued, being a part of the contribution to the magazine. Signed and dated in print verso on portfolio.