Marcel Duchamp did not start out as a Dadaist of course. His early work focused on a form of Cubism, as demonstrated by his Nude Descending a Staircase series, of which this is No. 2.
Paying serious attention to subject matter and the complete dismantling of visual appearances, the artist depicted an innovative vision of what an object in motion could look like in a stop-motion universe, the flat canvas of the painter, and did so with reference to cinematic film cameras of the time. Motion picture film captured moving objects frame by frame and shows the intricate stages of motion. Since prior Cubist works had only focused on stationary sitters or collage-like still lifes, this subject was revolutionary to the movement and presented the artist with no small obstacles to overcome in his painting of it. A Cubist, after all, breaks down the subject geometrically to show all sides at once. With movement, this is a far trickier task to undertake. Mathematics, optics, and physics all play a part in this intricate construction; the artist has gone to no small lengths to study his subject in exhaustive depth as well as think through his artwork in detailed analysis, breaking down each movement, each still frame of a camera shot, and each visual reception processed in the eyes of the viewer. If we look closely at this painting we can perhaps see the nude descending the staircase, but it's been convoluted, as though all the frames of a motion picture camera have been overlapped on top of one another, giving us a foggy picture of blurred lines and indiscernible subject matter. This is Duchamp's picture of objects in motion and the inefficiency of art, the still medium, to convey the non-stationary. To be sure, the subject has been dumbed down here to the bare minimum of lines and shapes, but even so, this painting is incredibly complex. It catalogues under Cubist art, but Cubism would not be enough to satisfy Marcel Duchamp. Soon after this painting was completed (in 1912), he pushed his art forward to drastically rebellious and revolutionary levels. He would become infamous for exhibiting the most ordinary and absurd objects in salons as works of art, and we're about to look at some.