Marcel Duchamp Essay, Research Paper
Duchamp Stripped Bare, Even
Marcel Duchamp was born on July 28, 1887; thus, began the life of one of the most famous of the Cubists, Dadaists, and ready-made artists (Paz, 181). His work was important because of his love of new and different taking art in a new direction each time he created. I force myself to contradict myself so as to avoid conforming to my own taste (duchamps-children.fsnet). This explains his attempts at different types of art, hoping never to create something in different form he had already made. He wrote that the great trouble with art in this country is that there is no spirit of revolt no new ideas appearing among the young artists (Duchamp, Writings). With this ideal of what makes art he changed and reformed the idea of art.
Duchamp s paintings were an exercise in ideas I mean this to say that he was a painter of ideas. His paintings were a reflection of ideas; he did not seek to improve upon another s work, for he felt that art could never be perfect. His involvement in art was adaptation. We see this in his sculpture Fountain. Taking an ordinary urinal and turning this into what he would consider art not
enhanced or improved but changed and different. Fountain went in a completely different direction from what the urinal had originally been used. Also, he created a new definition of art. Art was not just oil on canvas or a sculpture of a young David but also a signature on porcelain accompanied by a title.
Duchamp also focused much on the use of literature in conjunction with a piece. For instance, in the above example, the mind of the spectator is unable to ascertain the ideal that Duchamp is creating unless he reads the title. Octavio Paz demonstrates the use of the title:
[Language] is the most perfect instrument for producing meanings and at the same time destroying them. The pun is a miraculous device because in one and the same phrase we exalt the power of the language to convey meaning only in order, a moment later, to abolish it the more completely (Paz, 5).
Another example of this use of language is the way Duchamp uses language to reflect an idea. Nude Descending a Staircase means nothing without the title; the title makes the idea come alive and reflects Duchamp s fascination with the human form.
Another trait though that word may seem anachronistic when referring to Duchamp since his life was an example of one ridding himself of any one trait of Duchamp is his flare for movement. To Duchamp, art was not motionless and tactile; art was an expression and flowed from both the creator s idea and the spectator s acceptance; thus, art itself should be flowing. Much of his work reflected this idea of art flowing. Nude Descending a Staircase is one example; Portrait, an earlier version of Nude Descending, is another example. The Bride Stripped Bare by her Bachelors, Even reflects action both in the actual work and in the title, the language. His portraits of people from 1909-11 reflect this theme as well. Many of them show people in the act of doing something the nudes are in the process of removing articles of clothing; the chess players are making a move or planning their next move; Sonata depicts a girl playing a violin as another plays the piano while an older woman watches approvingly. To Duchamp, art was active; art reflected life. Life is not still or immobile but lively and animated.
Possibly, one of the most famous genres of Duchamp s work is his ready-mades. Fountain, Bicycle Wheel, and L.H.O.O.Q. rank among the most famous examples of this
type. These works were not intended to be given extreme significance but to be accepted as art; their intent is to provoke and challenge the idea of what art is. His idea is not to depreciate the value of a Rembrandt; instead, he tends to establish his own uniqueness by challenging the notions of where and in what value is placed. These ready-mades become examples of art that he did not expect to be immediately accepted by an art world whose selection of what is good reflected what had been accepted in the past. Lebel states Duchamp s view of what can be called art:
The unmitigated artist, as the source of all value, does not need to have his own confirmed by others. He has only to bestow his seal on the objects he has chosen for them to become his work, thanks to this unique laying on of hands (36).
In his ready-mades, we see a most remarkable example of the effect of language on Duchamp. He uses the word Fountain to describe his urinal, and even on his depiction of the Mona Lisa with a mustache, he affixes the title L.H.O.O.Q.
This title, when pronounced in French, sounds like one is saying, She has a hot ass . This play on words demonstrates the value that Duchamp puts on language and
art. Art can be whatever exists in the mind of the creator. Another interesting point is the relative lack of time that Duchamp put into his ready-mades compared to his greater works.
Duchamp labored in relative obscurity, except among French avant-garde artists, until he produced Nude Descending a Staircase; this work begins his introduction to the world outside of France. Before this, he had presented his works at the Salome d Automne, the Salon des Ind pendants, and the Soci t Normande de Peinture Moderne(Paz, 182-3); however, these exhibitions were usually confined to and viewed by those who had already experienced his work. Nude Descending was at first refused for admittance at the Salon des Ind pendants when he first exhibited it because of the controversial title; however, he refused to budge and withdrew the piece instead. The work is eventually displayed in Paris at the Galerie de la Bo tie(184-5).
He found his greatest admirers after he presented his work at the Armory Show in New York; Nude Descending a Staircase, Portrait of Chess Players, King and Queen Surrounded by Swift Nudes, and Sad Young Man in a Train these are the works he sent to the show. Among these, Nude
Descending a Staircase received the most attention and drew both acclaim and criticism from the viewers. Many were shocked by the title and, thus, the work; one man even described it as an explosion in a shingle factory (Lebel, 28). However, Duchamp was here to realize the power of his work, not only through the purchase of all four of the paintings but also the acclaim and general interest inspired by the one painting. The word transferred back to France that America was open to the audacities of modern art (29). Duchamp transferred himself from the world of artist to commercial architect. No longer was he allowed to paint as a hobby; even several of his later works were commissioned or used to pay for rent.
Shortly before the exhibition, he had rescinded himself from Cubism, feeling somewhat rejected by the movement that he had embraced as a younger artist and had matured under. Cubists had rejected Nude Descending, and Duchamp felt no attraction anymore to painting that form of art or painting, in general. He did, however, help to sponsor several exhibitions of Cubist art and maintained a working relationship with several friends within Cubism. After the Armory Show, he dabbled in ready-mades and a ready-maid. Duchamp created Rrose Selavy, a
female alter ego, who posed for pictures and wrote poetry; though she never existed, she even held the copyright for some of Duchamp s work.
Duchamp s attractions turned more to photography and the work of sculpture and, of course, ready-mades. He did not take any of these genres of his to extremes. Referring to his ready-mades, he makes the statement:
Anything can become very beautiful if the gesture is repeated often enough: this is why the number of my Readymades is very limited (Paz, 24).
This statement could be repeated about all of his works and even his life; he did not stay with anyone genre or in any place for too long. Duchamp sought always something new and exciting to experience. One exciting experience for Duchamp was his withdrawal from the Society of Independent Artists; he had been a founding member of the Society, which had as its goal making art and artists equal. For the Society s first exhibition, the only rules were No Jury. No Prizes. Hung in Alphabetical Order. With this opportunity, Duchamp decided to test just how far the actions of the members reflected their words. He submitted an over-turned urinal called Fountain signed by R. Mutt with the year printed on it. In protest over the refusal
of his work, he resigned from the Society, the only organization he had ever belonged to (188).
Duchamp s most important work, by far, was The Bride Stripped Bare by her Bachelors, Even or The Large Glass. From the first actual study done for the Glass in 1912 to its incompletion in 1923, Duchamp showed a patience and dedication customary to his significant works. Possibly, the idea for the Glass was in his mind as early as 1912 when he began working on Bride and The Passage from the Virgin to the Bride upon his visit to Munich. These paintings formed the themes behind the later Glass; in 1913, he begins the mechanical drawings, painted, studies and notations for the Glass, and produces a study on glass called Glider Containing a Water Mill in Neighboring Metals. In 1915, he buys two large panes of glass and begins work on the Glass; we see the constraints that time and money have put on him in 1916 in exchange for paying his rent, the Arensbergs, two friends of his, acquire ownership of the Glass when it is finished.
Moving to Buenos Aires when America joins World War I, he continues work on the work and concludes his third glass study To Be Looked at with One Eye, Close to, for Almost an Hour. Ownership of the Glass refers to Katherine
Dreier, for whom he had made several other works, when the Arensbergs move to California. He continues his work on the Glass until 1923 when he signs the incomplete work. The work is shown publicly in 1926 at the International Exhibition in Brooklyn and is subsequently shattered during movement to Dreier s home in Connecticut (184-193). Lebel states that:
As soon as one sees the Large Glass as the diagram of a love-making machine its arrangement becomes clear: the male and female machines function separately and without any point of contact which leaves her literally hanging in the air, halfway between the satisfaction which would bring about her downfall and the blossoming which would compensate for her frustration (Lebel, 67).
We see in the Glass another example of Duchamp s use of language. Paz asserts:
The use of the word bachelor , instead of the seemingly normal fianc or suitor, sets up an unbridgeable separation between feminine and masculine; the bachelor is not even a suitor, and the bride will never be married. The plural and
the possessive adjective heighten the inferiority of the males (Paz, 32).
Thus, we see in this work elements of Duchamp s uniqueness unity above and plurality below according to Paz who goes on to state that the Glass reflects the lady and troubadour in the courtly love tradition (156). Troubadour seems a fitting word to use in comparison to Duchamp s bachelors when considering that a troubadour would never actually get the lady but would be free to love the lady.
Throughout the rest of his life, Duchamp continued in his photography and creation of somewhat ready-mades, but he focused the majority of his time and effort on a love that would never fail him and could never be derided or rejected chess.
Lebel quotes H.P. Roche s adjudgement of what Duchamp s legacy seems to say:
Seek, find, be yourself.
Don t follow things others are running after.
Don t follow the herd.
Don t repeat, in spite of the encore s.
Don t swallow up bits of other people; it digests badly and gets noticed.
Have fun. If not, you ll bore us.