Box in a Valise (Boîte-en-valise), 1941
“Everything important that I have done can be put into a little suitcase”
- Marcel Duchamp
This is the first of a deluxe edition of twenty Louis Vuitton travel cases, each containing sixty-nine reproductions and miniatures of the most significant works by the multifaceted and irreverent French artist. With the Boîte-en-Valise, Marcel Duchamp undertook one of his most ambitious projects: a portable museum of replicas created with the help of elaborate reproduction techniques such as the pochoir, a stencil-like method. Duchamp thus brought to its last stage the revolution he had initiated with the ready-mades, parodying the creative mechanisms behind art making and the very idea of museum. The deluxe edition includes not only the miniature reproductions of Duchamp’s works, but also one “original” for each of the twenty suitcases, which present slight variations in design and content. In Peggy Guggenheim’s valise the “original” is a reproduction of Le Roi et le reine entrourés de nus vites (1912) hand-colored by the artist. The valise also bears an inscription to Peggy Guggenheim, who financially supported Duchamp in the production of the work’s edition.
This research and conservation project is supported by EFG, Institutional Patron of the museum.
Duchamp created this unique work of art by using different materials, included leather, paper, cloth, metal, glass, ceramic, cellulose acetate, gouache, varnish, wood, pencil and ink.
The variety of the constituent materials, and the complex physical and conceptual ways in which they interact, make conservation treatment of the Boîtes unusually challenging.
Given the varied natures of the supports and media, the conservation treatment is coordinated by the Conservation Department of the Peggy Guggenheim Collection and the Materiali Cartacei e Membranacei of the Opificio delle Pietre Dure e Laboratori di Restauro in Florence. Conservators are supported by experts from the various departments of the Opificio, who are consulted upon and involved on specific aspects of the case and its content. The preliminary phase involved researching the various graphic and painting techniques used by the artist and the methods used to assemble the various elements.
The multiple goals involved resolving the problems inherent in the conservation and display of such a delicate object, and studying Duchamp’s methods and the ‘semi-industrial’ process he will adopt in the making of the later series of suitcases.
In order to verify any changes or replacements that the artist made, other Duchamp 'suitcases' were examined, such as the one at the Galleria Nazionale di Arte Moderna in Rome (no. III/XX) that was created at the same time as the one in the PGC and is also part of the same series. Guggenheim's Boîte-en-valise is delicate: a prototype assembled with multiple elements (11 different types of materials, from paper to leather, to ceramics and glass) that posed conservation problems from the beginning. The moveable elements were especially problematic which resulted in Duchamp making changes to future works in the series so as to avoid the same damages that are evident in the piece belonging to the PGC.
The Opificio delle Pietre Dure in Florence assembled a team of their own experts: the Paper Laboratory conservators worked on the structure, on the suitcase, on the two-dimensional paper works, and on the acetate panels, while the Bronze Laboratory turned its attention to the metal elements, the Terracotta Laboratory worked on ceramic and glass elements, and the Wood Laboratory addressed structural and decorative elements.