Boîte-en-valise Marcel Duchamp's Boîte-en-valise, or box in a suitcase, is a portable miniature monograph including sixty-nine reproductions of the artist's own work. Between 1935 and 1940, he created a deluxe edition of twenty boxes, each in a brown leather carrying case but with slight variations in design and content.
A later edition consisting of six different series was created during the 1950s and 1960s; these eliminated the suitcase, used different colored fabrics for the cover, and altered the number of items inside.
In 1935 Duchamp wrote in a letter to Katherine Dreier: "I want to make, sometime, an album of approximately all the things I produced."
Each box unfolds to reveal pull-out standing frames displaying Nude Descending a Staircase and other works, diminutive Readymades hung in a vertical "gallery," and loose prints mounted on paper. Duchamp included in each deluxe box one "original."
It was a new form of expression for me. Instead of painting something the idea was to reproduce the paintings that I loved so much in miniature. I didn't know how to do it. I thought of a book, but I didn't like that idea. Then I thought of the idea of the box in which all my works would be mounted like a small museum, a portable museum, so to speak, and here it is in this valise.
Duchamp's boxes, along with his altered Mona Lisa, address museums' ever-increasing traffic in reproductions and question the relative importance of the "original" work of art.
Everything important that I have done can be put into a little suitcase
Around the same time that Duchamp worked on the Box in a Valise, Walter Benjamin published The Work of Art in the Age of Mechanical Reproduction. While Benjamin lamented the loss of the artwork's aura, Duchamp appears to have embraced it. Duchamp delighted in the fact that critic at the time still clung to the auratic notion of the singular art work and considered the work a print edition, not a work of art in itself.
Benjamin himself, on the other hand, in 1937 in his diary noted "Saw Duchamp this morning, same café on the Boulevard St. Germain. Showed me his painting, Nude Descending a Staircase, in a reduced format, coloured by hand, en-pochoir. Breathtakingly beautiful." The reproductions carry a stamp from a notary, who authenticated the facsimiles at the request of Duchamp.
SMS (Shit Must Stop)
In the late 1960s, art was moving out of the galleries. Searching for new sites, forms, and formats, artists and curators turned to a new venue: the periodical. While some would stick to the printed page, others would push the magazine format to its limit. S.M.S., short for “Shit Must Stop,” endeavored 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 box, filled with small-scale, often whimsical, artworks available by subscription. Delivering art through the post offered Copley, and his collaborator Dimitri Petrov, a way to circumvent the art market and make contemporary art accessible to nearly anyone.
Inspired by Copley’s mentor and friend Marcel Duchamp’s Boîte-en-valise, S.M.S. was conceived as an inter-media and intergenerational publication that would present artworks by prominent and unknown artists side by side.
The magazine gathered an impressive range including the Surrealist luminaries Man Ray and Meret Oppenheim, Pop artists Richard Hamilton and Roy Lichtenstein, composers Lamont Young and Terry Riley, and an up-and-coming generation of conceptual and post-studio artists such as Joseph Kosuth and Bruce Nauman.
Regardless of stature, each was paid $100 for their contribution. This egalitarian spirit extended to the communal atmosphere of Copley’s upper west side Letter Edged in Black Press loft which functioned as an unofficial hangout for many of the participants.
Details of SMS's complex, often round-the-clock and always chaotic working days were managed by Petrov. Copley himself occupied a corner office with a view of West 80th Street and Broadway. Here, with his long flowing hair and red velvet bell-bottom suit, he greeted visitors and presided over a buffet perpetually replenished by nearby Zabar's Delicatessen, an open bar, and a pay phone with a cigar box filled with dimes. It was no small wonder that the SMS loft was a haven for both accomplished and aspiring artists.
The six issues of S.M.S. are composed of “original reproductions”—luxurious, exacting replicas of each artist’s work in an edition of approximately 2,000. The magazine spared no expense, seeking out, and even inventing, varied and obscure production methods including Lil Picard’s labor intensive Burned Bow Tie—each of which needed to be individually singed. The enormous edition size—and the affordable price of $125 per subscription—enabled a much broader swath of the public to collect the internationally recognized artists contained in the portfolios. Ultimately short-lived, S.M.S. portfolios were mailed bi-monthly between February and December of 1968 directly to subscribers, with each portfolio containing approximately a dozen works of art.
Copley himself only contributed an artwork once. The folio “The Barber's Shop” shows a series of documents and letters between Maestro Gerhard Nonmemacher, the City of Chicago, and Pablo Picasso regarding a copyright suit between Nonmemacher’s barber shop and the city for reproducing a drawing of Picasso’s public sculpture on his business cards. Nonmemacher writes (and Copley reproduces): “please tell me that you have no objection to my using your lady on the enclosed card, and please tell me that she truly belongs to all the people of Chicago for their use and enjoyment.”
Copley’s interest in this case has everything to do with his beliefs about art and democracy, as he was interested in pushing the boundaries of art and the audience’s encounter with objects.