cover image Spellbound by Marcel: Duchamp, Love, and Art

Spellbound by Marcel: Duchamp, Love, and Art

Ruth Brandon. Pegasus, , (280p) $27.95 ISBN 978-1-64313-861-9

Cultural historian Brandon (Houdini) delivers a swirling tale of two people whose infatuations with 20th century French artist Marcel Duchamp sparked their own love affair. The nexus of Brandon’s narrative is New York City’s Arensberg salon, where, in the months before America entered WWI, “artists and poets from both sides of the Atlantic met nightly” to “discuss each other’s work... and fall in and out of love.” As Brandon reveals, many of them—including French author Henri-Pierre Roché and artist Beatrice Wood—fell in love with Duchamp. Sifting through Roché and Wood’s diaries and published works, Brandon plays analytical sleuth to their converging love stories, which, she reveals, are rife with discrepancies—while Wood claimed Duchamp was besotted with her, it was actually “Duchamp who introduced her to Roché in hopes that she might find another object for her romantic yearnings.” Along the way, Brandon weaves in a cast of eccentric characters from Duchamp’s life (including his “Wealthy Middle-Aged Lady Friends”), while also tracing the artist’s path from obscurity to fame, cemented by his 1917 urinal sculpture, Fountain, which “expressed all the anger Marcel’s life was otherwise devoted to denying... about the art world, about the war.” Part drama, part page-turning history, this paints the complexities of art and love in a seductive light. (Mar.)