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July 07, 1991|JESSE KATZ

Marcel Duchamp--the French-born artist who stimulated major trends in futurism, Dadaism, surrealism and pop art--often vowed never to repeat himself.

He was essentially a Cubist when he created his most famous work, "Nude Descending a Staircase, No. 2," an abstract sequence of images suggesting a female body in motion. The work outraged the public when it was exhibited in New York in 1913.

In 1917, as part of his quest to destroy the mystique of taste and aesthetic beauty, he submitted a urinal under the title of "Fountain" to an exhibition of the Society of Independent Artists. And at a Dada demonstration in Paris in 1920, he offered a reproduction of the "Mona Lisa," to which he added a mustache and goatee.

The largest collection of his work in California belongs to the Norton Simon Museum in Pasadena, which gave Duchamp his first major retrospective in 1963, five years before his death at 81. Last week, for the first time since that exhibition, the museum unveiled its Duchamp collection under the title, "Impossible Realities: Marcel Duchamp and the Surrealist Tradition."

The show, which runs until March of next year, also includes the work of many artists influenced by Duchamp, including Salvador Dali, Joan Miro, Man Ray, Alexander Calder and Andy Warhol. To many of them, Duchamp was the man who "set them free" to do whatever they wanted.

The Norton Simon is located at 411 W. Colorado Blvd. and is open Thursday through Sunday, from 12 to 6 p.m. Admission is $4 for adults and $2 for students and seniors. Children under 12 accompanied by an adult are free.

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