The Marcel Duchamp Research Collection contains a variety of material related to Duchamp, his life, work, and legacy. The material was collected from various sources by the staff of the Department of Modern and Contemporary Art (formerly the Twentieth Century Art Department), Philadelphia Museum of Art, and compiled as the Marcel Duchamp Research Collection to support the curatorial and scholarly work of Museum staff and outside researchers. The collection includes subject files concerning portraits of Duchamp in various media ("Portraits"); artists whose work refers to or is otherwise influenced or inspired by Duchamp ("Artists Inspired by Duchamp"); and exhibitions, films, seminars, symposia, and other events about or related to Duchamp ("Exhibitions and Events"). The collection also includes copies and originals of Duchamp's correspondence ("Correspondence"); photographs of Duchamp, his works of art, and related subjects ("Photographs"); and published and unpublished writings about Duchamp ("Writings"). The "Kiesler research material" series contains Frederick Kiesler's research notes, interviews, layouts, photographs, and other preparatory material related to his two published articles on Marcel Duchamp, "Design-Correlation" (Architectural Record) and "Les Larves d'Image" (View VI).
The Twentieth Century Art Department was established in 1971, previously being a section of the Painting Department. It then became known as the Modern and Contemporary Art Department in 2000. Museum director Evan Turner appointed Anne d'Harnoncourt, a Marcel Duchamp scholar, as the first department head. In this capacity, d'Harnoncourt oversaw the development of the department's acquisitions, installation and other programs, and, in conjunction with Kynaston McShine and others from the Museum of Modern Art, organized its first exhibition, the seminal 1973 show "Marcel Duchamp." In the process of arranging this exhibition, d'Harnoncourt began collecting Duchamp related correspondence, ephemera, articles, and other archival material with the intent of establishing a comprehensive Duchamp research collection at the museum to support both the in-house staff who care for the museum's unparalleled collection of Marcel Duchamp works and outside researchers who rely on the museum for expert advice regarding the artist and his works.
d'Harnoncourt and other departmental staff members have contributed ephemera, published and unpublished articles, clippings, and photographs regularly to the collection over the past thirty years. Much of this material was acquired through the normal course of staff curatorial duties, such as reviewing articles and books prior to publication, answering research inquiries, and corresponding with Duchamp family and friends. The research collection has also grown through the purchase of a small group of images by the photographer John D. Schiff and the gift of original material from Lilian Kiesler, George Heard Hamilton, Lawrence Steefel and others friends and acquaintances of Marcel Duchamp.