Marcel Duchamp images and biography
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Marcel Duchamp


See also: Dada/Surrealism; Duchamp: To Say the Least

Text from Janis Mink, "Marcel Duchamp, 1887-1968: Art as Anti-Art"

"The Large Glass is something like a department store window in size, and relates to the changing use of glass and metal in the architecture of the time. However, Duchamp uses it as a non-referential surface upon which some of the isolated components, such as the chocolate grinder and the glider, are shown with painstakingly convincing perspective. One is reminded of the disembodied reality reflected in store windows. Indeed, a note dated 1913 from the White Box deals exclusively with shop windows and ends with the comment, "No obstinacy, ad absurdum, of hiding the coition through a glass pane with one or many objects of the shop window. The penalty consists in cutting the pane and in feeling regret as soon as possession is consummated. Q.E.D." And also, "I. Show case with sliding glass panes - place some FRAGILE objects inside. - Inconvenience-narrowness-reduction of space, i.e. way of being able to experiment in 3 dimensions as one operates on planes in plane geometry."

"The Large Glass has been called a love machine, but it is actually a machine of suffering. Its upper and lower realms are separated from each other forever by a horizon designated as the "bride's clothes". The bride is hanging, perhaps from a rope, in an isolated cage, or crucified. The bachelors remain below, left only with the possibility of churning, agonized masturbation. Duchamp invents the working parts of these two sexual machines, which are as arbitrary and absurd as the machinery of Roussel which inspired them. Their mechanisms are so complicated that they are usually accompanied by a diagram, which leaves the viewer feeling a little helpless. In an artistic essay without punctuation, someone named "davidantin" quite rightly wrote, "now duchamp takes fragments of science his relation to science is that of a scavenger you reach in and you say 'what a nice set of wires' and you pull them out and if you survive you say 'now doesn't that look great' ... duchamp takes all sorts of physical laws they are physical laws in the sense that they are phrased like such laws this does this in such a way the feeble cylinders actuate the desire motor love gasoline you really don't know what he's talking about..." Still, it is useful here to give a rough summary of their "functioning". Some additional ideas for the machinery were never carried out and exist only potentially in the notes.

"The bride is made of several parts that supposedly work together like the parts of a motor. The motor runs on self-secreted love gasoline, inspired by Roussel's glass-caged worm, which created music with its metallic secretions. Despite her mechanization, the bride is also called the "arbor-type", recalling the young girl under the trees in Duchamp's painting, Young Man and Girl in Spring of 1911. The hanging figure, or "Pendu femelle", derives from the Munich Bride painting. It has a "halo", which blossoms out into stripped flesh, coral-colored with a tinge of green. It corresponds to the comet's tail of the "headlight" child from Duchamp's 1912 car trip through the Jura mountains, namely his interpretation of the functioning headlight as a comet with, unusually, its tail in front. Here, the veil-like halo appears to protrude roughly from the bride's forehead. The headlight child was male; Duchamp compared him with Jesus, as the divine blossoming of his mother, with whom he was to be united, as well as with God. Since the notes refer to the bride's stripping as a cinematic blossoming, a halo and a milky way, it is clear that ideas are mixing here, as are the sexes of the bride and the headlight child. The flesh-colored protruding veil takes on explicit male qualities. The three wafting squares that so resemble the flat surface of the snow shovel in his Advance of the Broken Arm were derived from square sections of net curtain - one meter by one meter - that Duchamp had hung above a radiator and photographed as models. Although they have become soft like a veil, he called them "draft pistons", which also have male connotations in their mechanical functioning.

"It is hard to say what the bride is doing, besides hanging and potentially lusting to the degree her "feeble cylinders" (notes) will allow. She does, however, have the potential of communication through inscriptions. Once again, the readymades come to mind. A so-called letter box of the alphabet provides the "hinge" between the vertical and horizontal parts of the bride. There letters could be found to form an inscription moving across the pistons towards the only sign of the bachelors within the bride's realm, namely the shots drilled through the empty right side of the pane.

"The realm of the bachelors is even more complicated. There are nine of them crowded together to the left behind a strange framework. They look like hanging articles of clothing; only one bachelor has a tiny, wheel-like head tilted back in perspective. Duchamp calls them "malic molds" ("malic" for "male"), assigns professions to them in then- "cemetery of uniforms and liveries" and says they are to be filled with illuminating gas. They are connected to the rest of the machine by their ejaculations that travel in gas form from their head-regions along "capillary lines". These lines have been adopted from the Network of Stoppages, changed slightly so that they might be shown in perspective. Within the "capillary lines", the gas changes into a solid that breaks into short needles, which, in turn, ascend through the cone-shaped "sieves". These sieves are colored by the dust that collected on their glass surface while lying on the floor of Duchamp's studio for several months; a famous photograph by Man Ray documents the "dust breeding". Duchamp fixed the dust with varnish. During their passage through the sieves, the ejaculate "spangles" become liquid and spiral down into a great splash, the orgasm. At the same time, the strange framework signified as a "chariot", "glider", "sleigh" and "slide" is gliding back and forth on its runners, powered by an invisible waterfall turning the paddle-wheel. The right side of the framework is affixed with scissor-like bars that open and close with the movement of the "chariot". The chocolate grinder, resting on a round table with curving legs ("Louis XV chassis"), is connected to the threatening scissors at their joint. There doesn't seem to be any passage of energy here. As Duchamp suggested in his notes, the bachelor has to grind his chocolate himself. The "oculist witnesses" to the extreme right of the bachelors' domain personify the viewer.

"Many questions remain open, not the least of which is why the bride has so many bachelors and not a single husband. The passage of time is also unclear, now after the shots that have pierced the bride's realm have rung out. Although the machinery of the bride and her bachelors has the potential for movement, nothing visible is happening anymore. Duchamp called the work a "delay in glass", which suits the atmosphere of waiting and stillness. All of the energy and juices of the proposed activities remain hypothetical or mythic. The full title is also puzzling. In French, the title ends with "méme", which is always translated as the adverb "even". Of course, as has often been noticed, phonetically it could also mean "m'aime", that the bride "loves me". (This interpretation has supported an incest theory coupling Duchamp with his sister Suzanne.) It appears Duchamp added the "méme" to the title after his arrival in the United States in 1915, when he was experiencing the disjointedness of the French language from the point of view of someone trying to teach it to Americans. If "méme" were understood as an adjective (Duchamp himself said it was an adverb), it could mean "the same", such as 'Vest la méme chose' (that's the same thing), 'Vest moi-mémé' (it's me), or 'quand plusieurs verbes ont un méme sujet' (when several verbs have the same subject). In any case, it does seem possible that Duchamp hints the bride and the bachelors could be diverging facets of the single person who invented them.

"No one is in the position of deciding what events determined Duchamp's psychological makeup. For the art historian, the most decisive aspect of his concentration on sexuality was its communicative potential as a universal human experience. Sexuality was for Duchamp a primary, a core element - that existential legitimacy all progressive artists were looking for at the beginning of the twentieth century. Lawrence Steefel, the art historian with whom Duchamp was perhaps most frank, was once told by the artist, "I want to grasp things with the mind the way the penis is grasped by the vagina." Steefel has written: "Seeking to distance himself from his own fantasies, Duchamp sought a means of converting pathos into pleasure and emotion into thought. His mechanism of conversion was a strange one, but essentially it consisted of inventing a 'displacement game' that would project conflicts and distill excitements into surrogate objects and constructs without which his mental equilibrium might not have been sustained." And Duchamp once said to Steefel, "I did not really love the machine. It was better to do it to machines than to people, or doing it to me." Steefel then adds, "By letting machines and mechanisms suffer outrageously, Duchamp could muster his energies for survival and the pursuit of poetry." Duchamp's poetry remains unspoken as an atmosphere "between the lines", it is always in the process of recreating itself through the mixing and overlapping of forms, ideas and emotions."

Further reading on Marcel Duchamp:

Marcel Duchamp Images on the Web

* Links to other Duchamp images online can be found at Artcyclopedia.

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Bicycle Wheel
The Bride Stripped Bare by her Bachelors, Even (The Large Glass)
Coffee Mill
Etant Donnes: 1. La chute d'eau, 2. Le gaz d'eclairage (Given: 1. The Waterfall, 2. The Illuminating Gas)
L.H.O.O.Q. (Mona Lisa with Moustache)
Monte Carlo Bond
Nude Descending a Staircase, No. 2
To be looked at (from the Other Side of the Glass) with One Eye, Close to, for Almost an Hour
With Hidden Noise

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