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[Comments] (3) : Went with Kevan to the Duchamp/Ray/Picabia exhibit at the Tate Modern. I was mainly interested in Duchamp of course, because the website promised a wide variety of pieces I'd never seen. I think I've now seen all his major works except Tu m' (apparently at Yale!) and the original Etant donnes.

Sumana read an earlier draft of this entry and asked for an introduction to Duchamp for those who don't know anything about his work. This is problematic because as far as I know all such introductions are based on a very old but apparently incorrect narrative about Duchamp. They all talk about his proto-dadaist use of chance in the creation of art, and his technique of selecting a particular mass-produced object from its brothers and designating it as a 'readymade' work of art. A typical introduction is Wikipedia's.

Voici la chose: Shearer's and (to a lesser extent) Gould's work on the topic show pretty convincingly that this narrative is wrong. (See 1 2). Duchamp seems to have been engaged in an experiment to see how far he could go outside this narrative about himself and still convince the art world of its validity. Because the narrative is so old, because so many other artists' work builds on the Duchamp narrative, and because any new narrative would have to be a meta-narrative where Duchamp's greatest work was an elaborate prank designed to misrepresent posterity as to the nature of his art, I don't know what the new narrative would be!

Museums don't seem to know either, because they stick to the old narrative. What's the deal, art museums? You know the guy doctored photos. The Tate put up an original 'readymade' photo of a blank book, noting that the pages were blank. Right next to it they showed how Duchamp doctored the photo to make it look like a geometry book--and referred to it as a 'readymade' geometry book! Is it such an easy narrative to use that you don't notice it doesn't hold up? Or are you in on the joke?

Things of lesser importance: I don't generally think it's really important to look at the originals of paintings instead of pictures of them, but maybe I'm changing my mind. I saw some Edward Hoppers at the Whitney and the colors were very different from any reproduction I'd ever seen. I kind of thought Edward Hopper was a hack but those colors changed my mind. And until I saw the original Nude Descending a Staircase today I always thought it was a spiral staircase. See it in person and it's obviously a regular staircase.

In addition to being in thrall, the museum descriptions were somewhat fanciful. NDaS caused scandal at the Armory show "partly because no one had previously thought of a 'nude' doing something as prosaic as coming down stairs." Gimme a break. Nudes are always lounging around doing nothing, which is more prosaic still.

Much more later.


Posted by Nick Moffitt at Sat Mar 01 2008 19:23

A friend of mine used to use Mark Rothko as the butt of all artistic
jokes. Then she actually went to an exhibition where they had a room
full of Rothkos, and she realized that the reason the prints always
looked laughable was that it was more sculpture than painting. Rothko
works in texture that doesn't translate through the photograph, and the
sheer size makes an impression that an A4 page can't.

Posted by Riana at Sat Mar 01 2008 20:05

There's a small room full of Rothkos at the Philips Collection in D.C. It is a lovely room. Just a bench, and four walls not far from you sitting on the bench, and every wall covered in Rothkos.

You know Duchamp made that bidet himself from scratch? It was not a readymade bidet! I love that it took decades to figure this out. I wonder what massive prank I can pull that won't be discovered until long after I'm dead.

I kind of miss the days when people could be put in a tizzy by the Armory Show and actually rioted at the first performance of The Firebird Suite. "Piss Christ" and "Anarchy in the U.K." look so... well, vulgar, by comparison.

Posted by Nathaniel at Tue Mar 04 2008 00:25

My experience is that when you see a Van Gogh in person, you stop being able to breath.

I don't know why prints fail so badly in practice; they shouldn't, but they do. Surely someone has worked out a list of the important missing parts (texture? internal translucency? non-spectral colors to the paints?), and we could apply some of that ADVANCED TWENTY-FIRST CENTURY TECHNOLOGY to the problem? I'd be willing to pay hundreds of $ for a really *good* repro of one of the great works...There's probably a quirky SF premise in here somewhere too.

What do you think about seeing a band live vs. listening to a recording?

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