Marcel Duchamp in La Bisbal d’Empordà

The name Marcel Duchamp needs no introduction: this controversial, multifaceted artist is one of the key figures from the 20th century. A visionary figure, Duchamp broke with every artistic convention of his time. His name and, in particular, his artistic work is certainly not free from controversy: is he a groundbreaking genius or an imposter? As you already know, there are as many opinions as there are tastes. On this topic, one person’s humble opinion is not all that important. Yet a few things are undeniable: his influence, still so tangible today, and his ability to stir debate. However, we only want to explain a simple yet strange little story about Duchamp that links him to the Empordà.

This element is specifically found within his posthumous work: “Étant donnés 1. La chute d'eau 2. Le gaz d'éclairage”. This work marked Duchamp’s return to the highest level of modern art, twenty-five years after having sought refuge in the fascinating world of chess. We’ll try to explain what this installation is and what it looks like. 

First of all, it is a work that must be viewed through a pair of peepholes, one for each eye, carved into an old wooden door. Looking through these two holes we can see a brick wall which in turn has a large opening. Hiding behind this enormous crack is a scene that is equal parts curious and enigmatic: a nude woman, lying face up, on a heap of plants. Her face is hidden from us; covered by her tussled hair. The subject has her legs open and holds a gas lamp alight. This last element neatly illuminates the scene. In the background, we can see a rural landscape with a waterfall. Its complexity brings to mind one of those Russian Babushka dolls, don't you think? You should see it and experience it first hand. Maybe then we could venture to talk about it in greater detail. Given the situation, however, let’s leave it here and move on to the anecdote.


What does all this have to do with our beloved capital of the Baix Empordà? The door itself, nothing more, nothing less. The door is now in Philadelphia as it forms part of Duchamp’s permanent installation, residing imposingly in the city’s art museum. Not so long ago, however, it was at 85 carrer Sis d’Octubre de 1869 in La Bisbal d’Empordà, right in the town centre. We owe this curious discovery to Joan Casellas. Looking at a photo in 2010, he knew how to tie things together. In the snapshot, he saw Tenny Duchamp (the artist’s wife) in front of a house in La Bisbal, located right at the address listed a couple lines above. Observed carefully, the front door of the house reveals the enigma: Duchamp used part of La Bisbal to create his final work of art. The marks and shape of the doorway are undeniable. This address still hosts an antique shop today: Antic Bisbal. On the date this photo was taken, it was run by Rafael Ponsatí, an acquaintance of Dalí. Of all the antiques sold in this establishment, doors are precisely what stand out the most. In fact, they say that the one that Duchamp used was the entry to a thousand other doors. Anyone brave enough to speculate on the symbolism?

There is yet another element that may link “Étant donnés 1. La chute d'eau 2. Le gaz d'éclairage” with the Empordà and we’re really excited to explain it as a conclusion. This time, we have to look a bit to the north to find the connection: to the Alt Empordà. Let’s take a look at the countryside represented in the work of art. As we mentioned, it includes a waterfall. A few photos taken prior to the assembly of the installation prove that Duchamp was very familiar with one of the most iconic sites in the Empordà, the Salt de la Caula waterfall, near the town of Les Escaules. If you’ve been there then you know, and if you haven’t, we’ll explain it to you: this countryside is best known for its impressive waterfall. The relationship is more than merely symbolic: could we be at the forefront of an idealization of the Empordà countryside? Some bold voices dare to say yes.