Serious Eye Candy: Duchamp’s Rotoreliefs

Marcel Duchamp published his 6 double-sided Rotoreliefs, he referred to them as optical entertainment, in 1935. These discs were meant to be ‘played’ on a turntable at 33 1/3.

Duchamp had been working with rotary discs and their optical effects for decades – Rotary Glass Plates (Precision Optics) from 1920, Disks Bearing Spirals 1923, and Rotary Demisphere from 1925. They clearly tickled his optical nerve. Calvin Tomkins described their movement as “erotic rhythm”.

Duchamp asked John Cage to provide music for his part in Hans Richter’s film Dreams that Money Can Buy (1946) which depicts the Rotoreliefs in action (as intended).

As with most things Duchamp, while the discs are playful, there was more to his story. Here’s Duchamp from a letter in 1935:

I showed it to scientists (optical people) and they say it is a new form, unknown before, of producing the illusion of volume or relief. … That serious side of the play toy is very interesting.