Tag art

Marcel Duchamp – clever bugger?

Marcel Duchamp – the artist who took first had the idea of taking a whole load of junk, posing it in a gallery with a label and calling it ‘art’ – may have had the last laugh on both those who acclaimed his genius and those who called him a fraud.

It seems that many of these so-called ‘ready-mades’ were, in fact, carefully hand-crafted by Duchamp to ”look” like the real thing but with a few clues to their true nature:

Duchamp’s readymade glass ampoule, which he named 50 cc of Paris Air, is larger than any that would have been readily available to pharmacists. (And she has a tape of a man from Corning Glass saying so.) The readymade snow shovel, which now exists only in photographs and replicas, "would hurt your hand" if you tried to use it, Ms. Shearer says, because it has a square shaft. And it doesn’t have the normal reinforcements to keep it from breaking. (She has hired people to make her a snow shovel like Duchamp’s and use it until it breaks.)

There is more: the bird cage is too squat for a real bird, the iron hooks in the photograph of the coat rack appear to bend in an impossible position, the French window opens the wrong way, the bottle rack has an asymmetrical arrangement of hooks and the urinal is too curvaceous to have come from the Mott Iron Works, where Duchamp said he bought it.

If this is true, Duchamp was a very clever, and very longsighted chap. As Andrew, from whom I steal this link and who’s much more eloquent than I, says:

..If Shearer is correct, Duchamp would have had to get it exactly right. The objects would have to look sufficiently ready-made to fool the audiences (and the tutting commentariat, whose outrage was the punchline of the joke) of the day. And yet, the fact that he laboured on building shovels and urinals rather than buying some from the local ironmonger’s suggests that he had in mind a secondary audience, in the distant future, who would piece together what he had done; in other words, his artefacts wouldn’t be fully appreciated until long after the initial wave of Dada, an possibly long after his death. Unless, of course, he meant, and failed, to get the details exactly right, producing artefacts indistinguishable from ones he could have just bought except to himself, in which case his motives would be even more mysterious.

If the latter case is true, it maybe makes him something like Bartlebooth in Perec’s Life – a User’s Manual: perhaps he deliberately embarked upon a project of which no trace would be left, as a kind of audience-less piece of art. But the clues in the pieces seem to suggest deliberate errors.

And that Duchamp is laughing from beyond the grave at us all. No-one likes to be made a fool of, though – Arthur Danto, the art critic for The Nation, says:

"If she’s right, I have no interest in Duchamp."

You can almost imagine the dimissive turning-up of the nose. Tit.

far far away

An installation in a disused shop in Aberystwyth by the Blaengar collective.

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