Tuesday, July 28, 2009


i've written about duchamp before here. i'm not breaking any new ground claiming he & picasso are the two most important artists of the first half of the 20th century. i think i starting getting out on a limb by claiming that duchamp's influence carried farther than picasso &, in fact, is still working its anarchic magic here in the early 21st century.

the line from duchamp to warhol & then rauschenberg & johns & then damien hirst & jeff koons is pretty clear it seems to me. i don't think you'd have beuys or broodthaers or sol lewitt or bruce nauman. i'm pretty sure the minimalists wouldn't have minimalized so much w/o marcel. from the ready-mades through precision optics to the kinetic works & the large glass, duchamp questioned the idea of "painterly effects." if caravaggio's project was "to destroy painting," duchamp succeeded. the idea of the artist, the work of art, & the audience would never be the same after duchamp. by undermining those three aesthetic pillars, he also introduced a fourth one: historical context. that's quite a bit of work for a guy who stopped making art for 25years & spent those years playing chess.

when picasso was told duchamp had died, he said, "he was wrong." of course, this is a pretty enigmatic statement(wrong to die? wrong about art? wrong to quit painting?)but it's always struck me that the master felt compelled to dismiss the joker so quickly & completely. maybe picasso felt like king lear w/his fool constantly pestering him. as annoying as the fool was, he communicated something to lear, who let him continue even through the worst of circumstances.

it seems to me the artist takes a reckoning of his place in the world by asking questions & trying to answer them as clearly as he can. some artists ask one question & spend their lives trying to answer it. this is tricky because this approach can become solipsistic, obscurantist, & unclear. others just keep asking questions, knowing that answers must always beg more questions. i'm not saying which way works better but i prefer the questions to the answers from the questions. the dialectic works cleaner that way.

duchamp's great last laugh was his posthumous work, etant donnes, revealed a year after his death. a large construct, it opened up another aesthetic domain(the place of the museum) for serious questioning & a flurry of artistic activity(installation art) trying to answer it. absent for over 25years, he ended w/a grandiose dirty joke & folks are still trying to figure out the punchline.

here's an excellent explanatory link.

No comments: