As a painter, sculptor, and writer, Marcel Duchamp revolutionized conceptual approaches to the art-making process in the twentieth century. Duchampís early experiments with Cubism beginning in 1910, as well as his association with Dada and Surrealism, challenged the very notion of what constitutes the art object.

In 1914 when war broke out in Europe Duchamp traveled to New York. With the unwavering support from patrons Walter and Louise Arensberg, Duchamp established a celebrity reputation on his own terms. In December 1914, along with a group of young artists associated with the Arensbergs, Duchamp founded the Society of independent artists, a group devoted to staging annual, jury-free exhibitions in New York. For their first exhibition, held at the Grand Central Palace in April 1917, Duchamp submitted an ordinary urinal, which he labeled Fountain. In 1921 Duchamp and Man Ray produced the single issue of New York Dada (the only such manifestation of the Dada movement in the United States), and manipulated the photographic portrait to suggest the intangible quality of identity.

After abandoning painting in 1920s, Duchamp began to investigate alternative modes of artistic expression through the study of optics. Repeating efforts to generate depth on a two-dimensional surface, Duchamp first began with the use of shadows or stereoscopic images and later by means of elaborate motorized devices. Duchampís refusal to accept standards of artistic, commercial, or exhibition practices meant that he never developed a singular recognizable style. The theoretical aspects, implicit to both his art and life, continue to hold a profound impact on artists later in the century.