'You cannot define electricity. The same can be said of art. It is a kind of inner current in a human being, or something that needs no definition'. Marcel Duchamp
Marcel Duchamp at the Museeum of Modern Art, Moderna Museet, Stockholm.
The museum has been strongly influenced by the legacy of Marcel Duchamp. Some of his works keep 're-appearing' in the various galleries, in an attempt to show the influence this artist has had on Western modern art.
Having assimilated the lessons of Cubism and Futurism whose joint influence can be seen in his early paintings, Duchamp spearheaded the American Dada movement together with Picabia and Man Ray. His first readymades sent shock waves across the art world that can still be felt today, and in the process he challenged the very notion of what is art and changed the course of art history. Willem de Kooning described Duchamp as 'a one-man movement'.
He rejected purely visual or what he dubbed 'retinal pleasure', deeming it to be facile, in favour of more intellectual, concept-driven approaches to art-making and, for that matter, viewing. Instead, Duchamp wanted, 'to put art back in the service of the mind'. In this insistence that art should be driven by ideas above all, he is considered to be the father of Conceptual art. Jasper Johns has written of Duchamp's work as the 'field where language, thought and vision act together'.
He subverted traditional or accepted modes of artistic production with irony and satire - this fondness for wordplay aligns his work with that of Surrealism, although he always refused to be affiliated with any specific artistic movement. Satirical and iconoclastic, works such as Fountain tested the limits of public taste and the boundaries of artistic technique. His use of irony, puns, alliteration and paradox layered the works with humour.
Boite-en-Valise [The Portable Museum of Marcel Duchamp: de ou par Marcel Duchamp ou Rrose Selavy], 1941
Box in a Valise is a portable museum of Duchamp's works, reproduced in miniature, packed in a customised collapsible case, like a salesman's valise. It debuted in a deluxe edition of twenty copies in 1941.
Rrose Selavy, was Duchamp's alter-ego, a pseudonym he adopted. The name, a pun, sounds like the French phrase 'Eros, c'est la vie' - 'Eros, that's life'.
Rrose Selavy photographed by Man Ray (not in the exhibition)
Selavy emerged in 1921 in a series of photographs by Man Ray of Duchamp dressed as a woman. Through the 1920s, Man and Duchamp collaborated on more photos of Selavy. Duchamp later used the name as the byline on written material and signed several creations with it.
Another instance of androgyny and gender bending is this portrait of the Mona Lisa, a cheap postcard reproduction of Leonardo da Vinci's iconic work, onto which Duchamp drew a moustache and beard in pencil and appended the title.
'The beard and moustache seem a completion. Duchamp said the Mona Lisa becomes a man - not a woman disguised as a man, but a real man. This hints at a different meaning from vandalism, for all the crudeness of those letters, LHOOQ, which sound out the French sentence; 'she has a hot arse'. This is not simply an attack on the mass-produced tourist icon the Mona Lisa had become, but rather an inter-pretation of it. Sigmund Freud had psychoanalysed Leonardo's art and related the artist's inability to finish his works to the sublimation of his sexual life to art. He also argued that Leonardo was homosexual. Duchamp's Mona Lisa is a Freudian joke. Duchamp reveals, in a simple gesture, that which the painting conceals. But this is not merely an allusion to Freud. Duchamp uncovers an ambiguity of gender at the heart of Leonardo's aesthetic - that Leonardo sees the male form in the female' (Jonathan Jones )
The Bicycle Wheel, 1913/1968/1976
The first of the readymades, the wheel of a common bicycle that rests upon an ordinary stool. Duchamp's move towards a creative process that was antithetical to artistic skill. He wanted to distance himself from traditional modes of painting in an effort to emphasize the conceptual value of a work of art, seducing the viewer through irony and verbal witticisms rather than relying on technical or aesthetic appeal. The object, a mundane, mass-produced, everyday object, became the work of art, because the artist had decided it would be designated as such.
The most notorious of the readymades, Fountain was submitted to the 1917 Society of Independent Artists under the pseudonu R. Mutt. The initial R Stood for Richard, French slang for 'moneybags', whereas Mutt referred to JL Mott Ironworks, the New York-based company, which manufactured the porcelain urinal. After the work had been rejected by the Society on the grounds that it was immoral, critics who championed it disputed this claim, arguing that an object was invested with new significance when selected by an artist for display. Testing the limits of what constitutes a work of art, Fountain staked new grounds. What started off as an elaborate prank designed to poke fun at American avant-garde art, proved to be one of the most influential artworks of the 20th century. (source ).
You can see more about Fountain here )
In Advance of the Broken Arm, 1915/1963
Fresh Widow, 1920/1960
On the window sill is written: Fresh widow - copyright - Rose Selavy - 1920
With Hidden Noise, 1916/1962
Three Standard Stoppages, 1913-1914/1963
This is a slightly different version to the one I saw at MOMA in New York or at the Barbican in London .
Duchamp was very interested in the part played by chance and by 1913 he had began to incorporate chance operations into his practice, thus surrendering artistic control and allowing other factors to determine the character of a work of art. Three Standard Stoppages is a question in a box. It asks whether things which we presume to be absolute - in this case, a standard unit of measure - might be merely arbitrary. Duchamp dropped three threads, each one metre long, from a height of one meter onto three stretched canvases. He then adhered the threads to the canvases, preserving the curves they had assumed upon landing, and cut the canvases along the threads' profiles, creating new units of measure, each in some sense a metre long yet all different and all with an element of the random.
Why not Sneeze, Rrose Selavy? 1921/1963/1985
A small birdcage, fitted inside with four wooden bars, containing a thermometer, a cuttlefish bone and one hundred and fifty two marble cubes cut to resemble sugar lumps. On the underside of the cage, in black paper-tape letters, the title and date of the work have been affixed, with each word placed on a separate line:
Duchamp shed some light on the mysterious title of this work during a television interview in 1963: 'You don't sneeze at will; you usually sneeze in spite of your will. So the answer to the question 'why not sneeze?' is simply that you can't sneeze at will'. The art historian Jerrold Seigel has also suggested that the line by line spacing of the title makes it read with the 'jerky, stop-and-start rhythm we all know from feeling the approach of a sneeze'.
Duchamp's comments about this work also point towards sneezing as a metaphor for erotic arousal. Although the interpretation of sneezing as a reference to orgasm implies the title can be read as a sexual invitation, the marble cubes suggest frigidity, and the birdcage can be seen as an image of confinement. Seigel has suggested that 'the implied answer to the question is that Rrose prefers the state of permanent anticipation that is not sneezing to the release of tension the small explosion would bring: because Eros is desire, delay is the only state in which it survives undiminished'.(source )
The first replica of Why Not Sneeze Rose Selavy? was made in 1963. A year later an edition of eight replicas were made in Milan under the supervision of the artist.
The Bride Stripped Bare by Her Bachelors, Even, (also known as The Large Glass) 1915-1923/1961
This is Duchamp's most complex and cerebral work. It's divided horizontally into two parts, with the female section (the Bride's Domain) at the top and the male section (the Bachelor Realm) below. It constitutes a diagram of an ironic love-making machine of extraordinary complexity in which the male the female machines communicate only by means of two circulatory systems, and without any point of contact. It's a piece that explores male and female desire. Is it a love machine? Or is it a machine of suffering? Is the stripping of the bride metaphorical, a stripping down to her soul, revealing her aspirations and inspirations?
Andrew Staffford concludes his analysis of the work as follows: 'The Bride Stripped Bare by Her Bachelors, Even is a comical look at the uncertainties of human romantic aspirations. At the same time, it is also an inquiry into what art can do. It is an attempt to show that artists can depict invisible worlds, not just visible ones, and that art can engage the imagination and the intellect, not just the eyes'. You can read the full article which includes an analysis of all the constituent parts of the work, here
The exhibition The Bride and the Bachelors at the Barbican in 2013 explored Duchamp's legacy and you can read about it here
...Pliant,... de Voyage, 1917/1963
The Bottle Rack, 1914/1963/1976
Objet Dard, 1951