Art Vent

Letting the Fresh Air In

Marcel Duchamp

Art Vent Letting the Fresh Air In

July 25, 2010

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.