For a cynic, the biggest takeaway from Duchamp’s legacy might be that, since his death in 1968, no artist has done anything new. Which would, in part, be true: Duchamp’s impact on art could be compared to Einstein‘s on physics, with all ongoing developments simply elaborations of his foundational principles. But that aside, for the artists who came after him, citing Duchamp suggests a certain attitudinal sense of humor with a biting intellectual edge.
So what, exactly, did Duchamp do? Those whose knowledge of his achievement stops with his famous Nude Descending a Staircase, No. 2 (1912)—a early painting in a definitively Cubist style—will be surprised to know that the iconoclastic Frenchman continuously exploded one convention after another over the course of his long career. To better understand exactly what Duchamp wrought, we took a look at his greatest hits—and how they continue to chart new directions for art today.