Duchamp’s Art Coefficient: The Dark Precursor at Work

Miguel González Virgen

conference: DARE 2015: the dark precursor
date: November 11, 2015
venue: Orpheus Institute, Penthouse
format: in words
practice: image
keywords: artistic research, Friedrich Nietzsche, Henri Matisse, Marcel Duchamp

abstract video about the author(s)


The aim of this presentation is to introduce a definition of artistic research derived from the historical tradition of modern art. Further, it will show how Deleuze’s concept of the “dark precursor” is both a development and an affirmation of the metaphysics that underpins that tradition.

Modern art metaphysics, first outlined by Nietzsche in The Birth of Tragedy, conceives the artist as a medium that translates into concrete form the experiences gained during and after a supra-subjective and supra-historical state. In this condition, a non-personal force manifests itself to the artist during a breakdown of the principium individuationis. On the return from this breakdown, difference becomes present and shows the artists the process by which the World of beings emerges out of Oneness.

The artist is then free to engage difference and produce completely new entities as a way to differentiate the One. However, difference continues manifesting itself in the way the artist’s will cannot be translated identically into material form. Duchamp called this difference the “art coefficient” of a work of art (“The Creative Act,” 1957). He referred to it as the difference between what an artist intends to express with what the artist actually realises in a work of art—“an arithmetical relation between the unexpressed but intended and the unintentionally expressed.”

Duchamp conceived the work to reduce the art coefficient as a struggle carried out by the artist guided by “pure intuition,” which he described as a mediumistic capacity that is beyond conscience. Following Deleuze, it is possible to think of Duchamp’s intuition as a dark precursor that by opening paths of potential communication attempts to break down the difference between a possible series and its actualisation in the external world. As an exploring flash that out of the darkness of “the labyrinth beyond space and time seeks a way out to a clearing”—as Duchamp described intuition—the dark precursor makes its final discharge in the concrete work of art. Conceived as part of the process of eternal recurrence, the struggle to actualise a possible series is in reality the struggle for the return—through the artist-medium—of a series of images that have existed before in the infinity of time. The Same returns but as it emerges into material form it can never be identical to what the artist has intuitively grasped beyond space and time.

Artistic research relies on Duchamp’s “art coefficient.” Artistic research is the struggle made by artists in the search for the formal solutions that will reduce the difference between what the artist has perceived through intuition as an explorative lightning, and what is finally actualised. Artistic research is the launching of an artist’s dark precursor that, struggling back and forth through knowledge fields and formal series, seeks to link an image from circular time with a series of multiple presents, forcing the image’s eternal return as the Same but totally different. The dark precursor seeks to link through the maximum of difference the two pre-existing series, that of circular time and that of its tangent, the straight line of pure time that creates the paradox of the present. Artistic research as the launching of the dark precursor amplifies the difference between an object, even between knowledge, with itself. “Nietzsche’s eternal Return, neurasthenic / form of a / repetition in succession to infinity” (Duchamp 1983). Finally, in the artist’s effort, the art coefficient is never reduced to zero because at one point the “invisible precursor conceals itself” and takes over the operation of transubstantiation of the in-itself, an operation in which the artist no longer plays a part.


Duchamp, Marcel. 1975. The Essential Writings of Marcel Duchamp. Edited by Michel Sanouillet and Elmer Peterson. London: Thames and Hudson, 1975.

—. 1983. Marcel Duchamp: Notes. Edited and translated by Paul Matisse. Boston: G. K. Hall.


about the author(s)

Miguel González Virgen

Miguel González Virgen was born in 1964 in Colima, Mexico. He completed his BA at Harvard College graduating magna cum laude in 1988. In 1991, he received a Master of Architecture from the Graduate School of Design of Harvard University. Between 1991 and 2006, Miguel worked as an architect and as an art critic in different countries, including Japan, Switzerland, and Mexico. In 2004, he wrote Of Games, the Infinite and Worlds: The Work of Gabriel Orozco, published by the Douglas Hyde Gallery of Trinity College, Dublin. Later, between 2006 and 2011, he was head of the Visual Arts Program at CEDIM, one of the leading art and design schools of Mexico. In September 2013 Miguel arrived in Belgium to start his research project leading to a PhD degree at KU Leuven. His dissertation project is titled “Towards a Metaphysics of Art as a Grounding for Paradigmatic Art Research.”

Email: miguelalejandro.gonzalezvirgen@arts.kuleuven.be

info & contact


KU Leuven, BE


miguelalejandro.gonzalezvirgen [AT] arts.kuleuven.be