Marcel Duchamp The Bird in Space Art Travels How we got our name
Art History History

The Best Story of All The Stories in Art History

Brancusi, Duchamp, Peggy Guggenheim - gang's all here, changing art history one revolution at a time.

The Legend

It all started with Marcel. You know, Marcel Duchamp? He is considered the most influential artist of the 20th century (not Picasso) and for some reason, I think of him more like a whacky scientist than an artist. Maybe that’s just because he was in everyone’s business introducing people to one another, revolutionizing, criticizing and influencing his contemporaries unknowingly. He knew everyone and he played a key part in so many historical twisted events.

Bird in Space Art Destination Travel Andrea Wild Botero
Brancusi, “Bird in Space”.

The sculpture that could

My favorite story in all the stories of art History is where The Bird in Space’s name came from: Brancusi’s fabulous Bird in Space, the golden bullet-like sculpture located at the MoMa in New York. It was originally part of an edition of nine bronze casts and seven marbles created in 1923. An American collector by the name of Edward Steichen bought one of the bronzes in 1926 in France and he asked the artist to ship it to the United States.

“Sure” said Brancusi, “coincidentally, a very good friend of mine, Marcel, is traveling to the States so I’ll just send it with him”.

“Cool” said Steichen.

So off goes Duchamp with Bird in Space wrapped up in a sheet and tightly squeezed into his suitcase. He wasn’t hiding it – it just was what it was. His luggage was inspected upon arrival by the customs officers and when they found the sculpture amidst his belongings, they confiscated it and accused him of illegally importing metal. A 25% tax or so needed to be paid on the price of the bronze.

“No!” said Duchamp, “this is art, not metal” – a very different way of looking at the object.

But Bird in Space didn’t qualify as a sculpture by those days’ standards. For authorities in the 20s, sculpture works had to be “reproductions by carving or casting, imitations of natural objects, chiefly the human form”. This sculpture didn’t even look like a bird! And so, because Duchamp and Brancusi didn’t have the money to take the matter to court and prove that it was in fact art, Dorothy Whitney (who would later found the Whitney Foundation)  gave them the money for the trial and Brancusi won!

As a result, Bird in Space is the first artwork to have ever gone to a court of law for it to determine whether it was just a piece of metal or in fact, art.

The Maverick

Alongside all of this madness, Duchamp was the first person that made us question the nature of art itself when he coined the term ‘readymade’ in 1915 – a mass-produced object that he selected and presented as a work of art. His rejection of modernist painting and traditional painting techniques moved art out of the canvas into every day objects. His justification was that “the creative act happens when the spectator sees it and has a reaction to it”.

Art is art, even if it’s bad. Thoughts?

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*Images: “Bird in Space” by Brancusi, 1928, courtesy of MoMa

*Marcel Duchamp, courtesy of Beliot Blog


20 comments on “The Best Story of All The Stories in Art History

  1. Mi Andre
    Estoy feliz recibiendo tu blog, mil gracias.
    Te quiero mucho,

    Enviado desde mi oficina móvil BlackBerry® de Telcel

  2. Thanks for the tour… What other connections to modern acolytes fell flat?

  3. I have always founf MD to be a very interesting artist, he made me realize the importance of an object not for its material value but because of its significance to the human language. Like Andy Warhole one said: no matter if the art work is bad, if you bombard the public with it they will love it.

    • That’s just how I feel about Duchamp as well. I think that people that don’t understand conceptual art or sometimes even contemporary, forget this. He wasn’t really artist, he only did a few things. He was a chess lover!

      Thank you for commenting.

  4. Eduardo Villaquirán

    Muy interesante su blog, Andrea. Además, cumple con creces la promesa de entretenernos. We want more 🙂 Un saludo desde Amsterdam.

    • Biennn!! Con estos buenos comentarios claro que seguire escribiendo. Mil gracias por leerlo! Ahora me siento un poco presionada… jajaja, no mentiras.


  5. Andrea he escuchado ahora msmo la entrevista en la W, y estuviste fantastica, me ha sorprendido de forma muy positiva saber que una joven como tú, habla y se expresa de manera tan suelta y segura con todo lo relacionado al arte. MIs respetos y un abrazo. Henry.

    • Hola Henry,

      Mil mil gracias por tu comentario y por escucharme. Mi pasion es el arte como ves asi que es un tema del que podria hablar todo el dia. Espero nunca dejar de aprender.

      Una vez mas, muchisimas gracias! Me puso muy feliz tu comentario.

  6. Me gusta tu blog Andrea! Tengo una foto en mi pared de Marcel y una mujer desnuda jugando ajedrez…siempre he amado las historias sobre él y tuyo es fabuloso, gracias 🙂

    • Hola Aileen,

      Que bueno que te gusto el post! Duchamp estaba en todo. Sabias que ademas el fue el que le puso “mobiles” a las esculturas de Calder?! Que tal!

      Gracias por tu comentario!

  7. My brother suggested I might like this website. He was totally right.
    This post actually made my day. You can not imagine just how much
    time I had spent for this info! Thanks!

    • I’m sooo glad it helped you! Don’t be a stranger then, come back and read a little more… Hopefully inspiration will come to come today, or some time this week and I’ll post something new.
      If I can help you with any other ‘anecdotes’ let me know!

      Thanks for reading!

    • I’m so glad you enjoyed the post! I’m sorry it took me a while to get back to your comment, I’ve had soooo much work that I haven’t even had time to post anything new. If there’s anything that I can ever help you with, please let me know!

  8. Pingback: About me – The Bird in Space

  9. Evaristo Leopoldo Camargo-Rodas

    Leyendote es como si estuviera escuchando.Toda mi atencion esta concentrada cada palabra que va sonando,diciendo cuanto dices,y vaya que lo dices.Ni por un instante ,ni fraccion mi escucha y entendimiento escapan a tu parla.Simultaneamente con la asimilacion de tus ideas me da margen,sin perder de vista tus planteamientos,para imaginar de donde viene ,donde se formaron,como,en que contexto,cuales son las riquisimas raices ancestrales-geneticas,ADN,genoma
    y todo eso..tan brillantes como frescas,innovadoras visiones sobre Brancusi,Duchamp que desde luego se solo son el detonante oportuno que desencadena esa catarata de ,permiteme el termino,de hermosisimos planteamientos que ademas en mi caso me hacen sentir muy afortunado y privilegiado por los dioses al haberme otorgado el don de empatia,cercania,afinidad…devocio,-prestame el termino-por y hacia el Arte.Se me ocurre sugerir una posible respuesta.La Familia.Que bueno que
    en ti,por favor no creas nunca que es una carga pesada como acaece en otros casos que se sienten abrumados por el peso de las genialidades familiares,no solo se compendia bellamente toda una genial tradicion familiar sino que,este sobrado-es un termino barranquillero para indicar fuera de serie-blog es una muestra,eres una dignisima heredera de los atributos que enaltecieron a tus ancestros lejanos y cercanos y aun mas otro Don agraciado por las excelsitudes del Arte.
    Quedo,tu atento,seguro,servidor
    Evaristo Leopoldo Camargo-Rodas
    Periodista Cultural-Critico de Arte
    Celular 3128842333

  10. Andrea,buenísimo !!!!me encanta cómo escribes ,te mando todos los besos y abrazos !!

    • andreawilderness

      Muchas gracias Sara! Me alegra mucho que lo sigas leyendo!


    Best show of my life so far, Duchamp at the Pompidou two years ago, he was indeed a genius and the Pompidou knows how to make solo shows unforgettable.

Let me know your thoughts!

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