As live public auctions have been canceled for the Spring, key works are coming to private sales. Among the highlights that have surfaced as the auction houses swiftly roll out updates to their digital private sale platforms is Duchamp’s 1924 Monte Carlo Bond (29) readymade.
A pseudo-financial document issued by Duchamp for his design of an imagined roulette game, the lithograph features a photograph taken by Man Ray. It’s a picture of Duchamp’s head coated in shaving foam meant to bear resemblance to a demonic figure. It also features a printed image of a roulette table, references to Duchamp’s alter ego, appropriated financial language and Duchamp’s signature play on words.
Money was the perfect subject for Duchamp. It was something that Duchamp, like many of us, was quite conflicted about. Money comes up again and again in Duchamp’s work. The system of semantic and visual cues epitomizes a key element of his art: disrupting what could be considered valuable and who gets to make that decision.
The format of the readymade remains the standard for conceptual art, both as installations and objects, made by emerging artists. As such, collecting Dada still feels radical despite its century-old legacy. The iconoclastic movement, a response to the global trauma of World War I bred a wave of renegade creatives, like Max Ernst, George Grosz, Francis Picabia and Man Ray, whose institutional and market value continues to appreciate.
An identical edition of the work, Monte Carlo Bond (No. 30) sold in the landmark Christie’s 2015 Artist’s Muse Evening sale which comprised a selection of modern and contemporary works and grossed a total of $491.3M. This was the same sale which saw Modigliani’s Nu couché realize $170.4 million— establishing it as one of the most expensive works to ever be sold in auction history. At auction, Dada works are often sold in the strategic vicinity of contemporary art—highlighting the era’s cross-categorical appeal.
In 2015, Duchamp’s No. 30 version sold for $2.4 million, landing at the high end of its pre-sale estimate of $1.8-2.5 million. The current auction record for the artist stands at $11.4 million—set in a Christie’s Paris impressionist and modern art sale in 2009 with Belle haleine – eau de voilette, a perfume bottle ready-made from 1921, which was consigned from the collection of Yves Saint Laurent. Like the work currently on offer at Christie’s, Belle haleine also features a Man Ray photograph of Duchamp in disguise, against text ripe with double meaning.
In the past, despite their iconic value and enduring relevance to cultural history, selling modern readymades at public auction has proven to be a risk. In 2002, Phillips saw tepid results for their curated sale of contemporary art and highly anticipated Dada works from the collection of Duchamp’s Milan-based dealer, Arturo Schwarz. Despite Duchamp’s massive impact on postwar Warholian appropriation that came to define visual culture in the second half of the 20th Century, the auction records don’t reflect that legacy.