You can always tell an artist is great when everyone feels the need to claim him. Marcel Duchamp has been called everything from a dada-ist to a surrealist to a futurist to a cubist to a conceptualist to an op artist and beyond. He has been accused of destroying the relationship between art and audience, between viewer and that being which is being viewed. He claimed at several points to be trying to move art away from the purely retinal to an art of the mind, an art of context and understanding and knowledge and perception, and as such (seeing as this pretty much describes the entire post-war art movement in the west) he can and should be considered the most influential artist of the twentieth century. This title is usually reserved for Picasso, but Alfred Jarry did on stage what Picasso tried to do on canvas quite a number of years before him. No-one beat Duchamp to the punch. He was ahead of them all.
As you can probably tell, he’s my favourite artist. If you want to know more about him I suggest reading the excellent biography by Calvin Tomkins entitled simply Duchamp. Meanwhile this entire post was an excuse to post Bride, one of Duchamps earlier works. It was widely considered at the time to be a cubist rip-off, but it’s probably closer to futurist than cubist. Even here Duchamp was more concerned with motion than the statically visual. Next will be Nude Descending a Staircase, if you can stomach it. For our book club this month we’re reading Lazy Bastardism, the title of which is drawn from the premise that people are too lazy and apathetic to read modern poetry with any degree of passion anymore. If they can’t get it in one sitting, or at one glance, they look for something else. Maybe switch on the TV. Same goes for twentieth century art. It requires commitment. It requires context. And thought. And I suppose it’s not for everyone. Maybe Duchamp did destroy the relationship between artist and audience. But if he did so, it was only by politely asking of us too much.