“The trip I took into the mystic was inspired by Duchamp,” says Minneapolis-based painter Frank Gaard, subject of an early 2012 solo show at the Walker, “as was my sense that language was a medium for visual artists.” In commemoration of today’s 125th anniversary of Marcel Duchamp’s birth, Gaard shares ten musings on the man.
Marcel Duchamp, Étant donnés: 1° la chute d’eau, 2° le gaz d’éclairage… (Given: 1. The Waterfall, 2. The Illuminating Gas…), 1946-66, and The Bride Stripped Bare by Her Bachelors, Even (The Large Glass), 1915-1923, via the Philadelphia Museum of Art
1. Étant donnés: I saw this in Philly in 1984; went there to see it, but what really pulled my chain was The Large Glass, which is in the same space. The glass is huge, thick and the images on it look like they are turned to crispy cellophane. The glass is cracked in both the top and bottom sections in the same pattern it was broken in a truck on the way to Brooklyn. Duchamp was cool with that–he was a master of chance.
2. The Snowshovel Stories, In Advance of A Broken Arm: When I left Chicago in 1967 I thought I’d never shovel anymore fucking snow! The first thing I remember about landing in Minneapolis was getting a snowshovel from my landlord. The Minneapolis Society of Arts–which was the parent organisation for the MIA children’s theater and the Minneapolis School of Art, my employer–gave me their snowshovel emblazoned with their name in perfect Jasper Johns stenciled majesty! We took a photo of said snowshovel at that time, 1969. A readymade from the landlord!
Marcel Duchamp, Eau & gaz a tous les étages, 1958, via toutfait.com
3. Eau & gaz a tous les étages: A common sign for renters in Paris (days bygone), it reads, “water & gas on every floor.” To wit, modernity, running water, and gas lights in your apartment or studio rental. Paris is wet, dark, and cold in winter. Jack Burnham, a professor at Northwestern University (Lisa Lyons, ex-WAC curator, studied with Jack ), was a frequent contributor to Artforum magazine, and in the mid-1970’s his essays on Duchamp and mysticism were quite a sensation in the art world. I met him in 1974 and had some correspondence after that time about Duchamp and kabbalah, etc. And, yes, about Duchamp and madness and the Beast (madness, insanity,psychosis), as well. Jack and I both lost our minds in those days. Water and gas for Jack Burnham were two legs of the chair of elements .
Marcel Duchamp, Tu m’, 1918, via the Yale University Art Gallery
4. T um’(1918): Arturo Schwarz–the publisher of the editions of readymades that first were produced in 1964–asked Duchamp if their was a readymade that was a corkscrew (like the image in the painting T um’). Duchamp said the readymade was not the corkscrew, but rather the corkscrew’s shadow as in the aforementioned painting. This little bit made me feel that uplift only insight gives us–that this shadow of a corkscrew was a readymade, a modern work of art made of a shadow.
Kay Bell Reynal, Marcel Duchamp playing chess in his studio, 1952, via the Smithsonian’s Archive of American Art
5. The whole thing about chess? Duchamp, like Cezanne before him, wanted art that appealed to the intellect. As for chess, it’s the battle of wits, non?
Alfred Jarry, undated photo, via Wikipedia
6. Alfred Jarry: I have learned that influence is what creates immortality for an artist. Duchamp’s influence dominated advanced art since at least the 1960’s as Picasso’s influence waned as Duchamp’s star rose. Alfred Jarry is one of the most important influences on Duchamp. You should look into it, mon ami. And Raymond Roussel!
7. The anti-retinal dialectics: Duchamp came of age in the backwash of impressionism and was influenced by it and made young work in various versions of post-impressionist styles. His contempt for retinal art comes after the on set of high modernism. But the dogwaste palette of the cubists became the domain of the non-retinal groups especially Dada and Surrealism. Some of the anti-painting rhetoric originates in the bias against primary and secondary colors in favor of black, grey, and Calvin Klein beige du jour.
Marcel Duchamp, Paysage fautif [Faulty Landscape], 1946, via Artnet
8. Paysage fautif: This is a self-portrait he made for his lover in South America with whom he had a daughter. The medium is semen on book ends.
9. His obsession with marriage. The bride and the bachelors: My favorite photo is Duchamp’s first bride, an heir to a motor car fortune who was rather plump. Duchamp’s pals were quite amused that thin-as-a-pencil Marcel had taken a fat, rich wife. It didn’t work out too many chess games.
Marcel Duchamp, Fountain, 1917, via Wikipedia
10. The late reception: The show in the Pasadena Art Museum organized by Walter Hopps (1963) was the largest show of his work to that moment. The influence of Duchamp on the artists in the LA Basin was huge. Think about all that follows from his art there and elsewhere. And his modesty! In some ways it seemed as if he didn’t fully appreciate the stir he caused. I remember my father seeing R. Mutt for the first time in the Art Institute of Chicago, laughing, his laugh echoing through the huge galleries. Maybe we art types should remember that a good laugh is a good thing!