Sunday, July 25, 2010

Summer reflections on Duchamp

Marcel Duchamp, Rotoreliefs (1935), Alan Koppol Gallery, Chicago.

Do leave comments, even if it’s just to say hi, because even though I can see the stats, I often forget that there are real people out there. I’ve been in that state of forgetfulness since coming back from Europe, and then last night went to Brenda Goodman’s opening at the John Davis Gallery in Hudson, NY, where I ran into a bunch of people I hadn’t met before who were totally up-to-date on my peregrinations. It’s a funny feeling, but nice.

Also the heat has taken me over, my big obsession being whether or not I should get air conditioning (which I haven’t needed before) for the studio—a major expense. By the time I make up my mind, we’ll be into another Ice Age.

So since I’m not generating original ideas, I’ll put forth those of another—Marcel Duchamp, with whom I seem to agree about everything. Calvin Tomkins’s biography titled, not surprisingly, Duchamp: A Biography, is without a doubt the best biography of an artist I’ve read (don’t get slowed down by the first chapter but save it for the end, when it’s more meaningful). I got the book out to lend to a friend—perfect summer reading—and then kept it to peruse the phrases I highlighted back in 1996.

Duchamp, who used to say that the artist never really knew what he was doing or why, declined to offer any such explanations for The Large Glass. One of his pet theories was that the artist performed only one part of the creative process and it was up to the viewer to complete that process by interpreting the work and assessing its permanent value. (p.11)

“I do not believe that art should have anything in common with definitive theories that are apart from it. That is too much like propaganda.” (p. 152)

Works of art could not be understood by the intellect, [Duchamp] maintained, nor could their effect be conveyed in words. The only valid approach to them was through an emotion that had “some analogy with religious faith or sexual attraction—an esthetic echo. This echo, however, was heard and appreciated by very few people. It could not be learned—either you had it or you did not—and it had nothing whatsoever to do with taste, which was merely a parroting of established opinion. “Taste gives a sensuous feeling, not an esthetic emotion,” Duchamp said, “Taste presupposed a domineering onlooker who dictates what he likes and dislikes, and translates it into beautiful and ugly, whereas “the ‘victim’ of an esthetic echo is comparable to that of a man in love or a believer…when touched by esthetic revelation, the same man in an almost ecstatic mood, becomes receptive and humble.”

I don’t think you would've caught Marcel writing an artist’s statement.


Brenda Goodman said...

thanks so much for mentioning my show at john davis. i enjoyed our short chat at the opening.
i don't comment often but i enjoy reading your blog.

Kathy Hodge said...

I agree with Diuchamp that the connection to the viewer is what gives a work its value, but I think too many artists today are shirking their "part of the process", then blaming the viewer for not having the perception or taking the time to experience the work.

Sometimes it seems just lazy on the part of the artist. Let's face it, people have so many distractions these days an artist may have to do more than nail a yogurt lid on a gallery wall to engage any but a select few.

I'm not saying an artist always (or ever) knows what he's doing, but should try to actually do SOMETHING.

The heat is crazy this year, fans and popsicles help!

beebe said...

I agree with Kathy to some extent.

My biggest problem with most of the art I encounter here in the city--and the Greater NY show at P.S. 1 would be a perfect example--is that I simply don't believe most of the artists are trying to get at something substantial, trying to answer some indefinable question that is nagging them at their very core. (That last bit sounds a little more melodramatic than I intended.)

So much high-profile contemporary art deals with these "definitive theories" that Duchamp mentions and treats them like a stack of tarot cards. The artist shuffles the deck, places a few enigmatic cards down--". . . as you can see the Five Wands of Marxism is crossed with Nine Pentacles of Relational Aesthetics both of which sit above the Wheel of Institutional Critique . . . "--and there is your exhibition. Always present is the sense of irony and detachment, never (or rarely) present is the sense that the artist was attempting to meet any interior need.

Kathy Hodge said...

Exactly! I couldn't have said it better myself—-in fact, didn't.

Carol Diehl said...

Thank you! Both put so well; I agree heartily! It's about the lack of interior need--or "personal necessity" as Roberta Smith put it, when discussing "Younger than Jesus" at the New Museum. It all seems very superficial. And while I agree that often the artist needs to put a little more effort towards execution, sometimes there's too much execution and not enough concept. It's all about the balance, and when it's achieved it becomes art.

Christopher Quirk said...

I was at Brenda Goodman's opening as well, and went back on Monday for a second look. Terrific paintings.

It is interesting to contrast Duchamp's interpretive openness with the intellectualization of art and didactic intent of some work that followed in his wake. I always found it curious that art bubbling out of the ferment of Postmodernism was so often accompanied by text telling you what you were looking at, in seeming contravention of its theoretical premises. Maybe the political aspirations made that necessary.

A writer friend who lives in Umbria got AC just for his office so he could think and work in the summer. The brain locks up in the heat sometimes.

jennifer said...

hello, and love your blog!!!!

Rob said...

I just finished, and enjoyed, "Duchamp: A Biography", though I had my doubts at times. First, I started reading the first chapter and thought it was going to be a horrible book. After a couple of pages I skipped to the last paragraph of the chapter and then started chapter 2 when I remembered that is what you had recommended. Then, I was a little annoyed by all the peripheral details. I thought it could be edited down about 25% to make it a better read but in the end I felt that he really gave a good sense of the time and history (knowing that Peggy Guggenheim created her world class collection by spending $40,000 on bargain-basement masterpieces as the German's were getting ready to invade Paris didn't really have any relevance to Duchamp but isn't it interesting to learn?). I also debated whether it was necessary to mention all of Duchamp's documentable liaisons and whether I should have cared or whether it was simple voyeurism (did I really need to know that at a certain obscure party he made-out with a woman who "had a face like a horse"?). But in the end, I decided it gave a better sense of who he was. I also liked that there is a great index in the back, it really helped at times. Thanks for the recommendation.