Retrospective: Duchamp’s ‘interior-decorator’s eye’

And other excerpts from our coverage 100, 75, 50, and 25 years ago

February 20, 1915

February 20, 1915

100 Years Ago

“Paris Letter,”
by B. C.

There will, of course, be no Salons this year, as nearly all the men available for juries are at the front, and it is doubtful whether there would be sufficient output of paintings and sculptures to justify, or make possible the holding of even the New Salon. The ranks of the stronger French painters and sculptors have been badly cut into by the war, and many of those who escaped death are in the hospitals, recovering from their wounds.

There is a general consensus of opinion among the older and more conservative French artists, a feeling also shared in England, that the effect of the war on foreign art will be to at least check and modify, if not destroy, some of the recent modern movements, such as “Futurism,” “Cubism,” “Pointellism,” etc. The reason for this belief is not difficult to discern. So many of the leaders in these movements were young men and women who followed the line of least resistance that, with the killing of some of the men, and the consequent distraction from art to other channels of occupation by the women, there will be a diminution of objective interest in new “Fads,” and a consequent return to saner methods.

February 3, 1940

February 3, 1940

75 Years Ago

“Pan-American Debut: Complete U. S. Show of Argentine Art Today,”
by Enrique Prins

Buenos Aires, advancing beyond what would be, possibly, her natural and logical position, is establishing spiritual bonds with the great centers of art. At least she is endeavoring to attain, and later to hold, such a position. And thus with the evolution of ideals and culture a growing art is arising among contributors of modern tendencies. It is a type of art which tends to impose its style, its concepts, its theories and its techniques here amongst us, as it has already done in older centers. The youth of this country has not escaped this aesthetic trend, which, under different designations, is interpreted, judged and valued with comparative freedom. Naturally and inevitably the advances and recognized successes in more renowned centers have had their echoes in our own. Public opinion, the critics, imported reviews which are debated and assimilated—all have contributed to stimulate the modernistic trend.

This is not the place to analyze far-reaching importance of our contemporary developments—rather let us welcome them. The new brings restlessness and doubt, but we must not forget that, in spite of prejudice, real talent will strive and triumph. On the other hand, we must assume that—genius aside—the vanquished would have fallen on any other field and despite their arms. The art which we still call modern has many apostles in our midst. They are impetuous spirits who, in their security in the present, must needs press ahead and overtake, in creating, even at the risk of finding that realities may not bring them their desideratum; and they have a right to their attitude.

February 1965

February 1965

50 Years Ago

“J’accuse Marcel Duchamp,”
by Thomas B. Hess

Duchamp’s “ready-mades” are a product of his “flair” (to quote R. Hamilton) for the object. He has that interior-decorator’s eye which spots beautiful items in the dingiest flea-market. When Duchamp sent a commonplace or despicable object to an art exhibition (the hat rack or the urinal), it was an anti-art gesture at modern sculpture, but the additional twist for his fan-club was that the object really is beautiful in itself. And probably better executed technically than much contemporary modernizing art. In this sly irony, Camp Art was born. (Some readers may not have kept track of recent discussions on “Camp” in fashion and literary circles. The term originated in homosexual slang and denotes a man who, say at a party, will act more effeminately than he usually does, making an insiders’ joke with the other homosexuals in the room. Its more general usage applies to any art in which the artist exaggerates his own traits, in conspiracy with his audience. For example, an eight-hour “underground” movie by Andy Warhol is boring, but his friends are delighted to understand that Warhol meant it to bore. Or a young writer announces a poem called Chic Death and his intimates know beforehand that it will be so bad that it’s good. Or a fashion-designer will have an elephant’s foot for an umbrella stand in his salon. There is also heterosexual Camp: thomas benton’s Wild-Midwest, Chagall’s Riviera shtelt. Marcel Duchamp is, I believe, the first artist to enter into this kind of compact with his audience. Two generations of Surrealists, Beats, and Pop-Artists have followed his lead.)

Camp Art is the perfect expression of the artist as a man of the world. It is trivial because of its reliance on a built-in audience; it exists in the smirk of the beholder.

February 1990

February 1990

25 Years Ago

“Pop and Circumstance,”
by Richard B. Woodward

Whatever the project, the initial step is always the same. “We first air out preconceptions about a site, which usually involve stereotypes” [Coosje van Bruggen] explains. That was the case with the sculpture Dropped Bowl, with Scatted Slices and Peels (1990). Neither of them had ever visited Miami when they were invited in 1984 by Art in Public Places (a city program that funds public art) to build a fountain for a government center downtown.

“Claes said to me after dinner on night ‘What is your first thought about Miami?’ I said, of course, oranges. I thought of a Silex juicer.”

“I like to see how things get invented,” says [Claes] Oldenburg. They plot each stage of a work, saving sketches and thoughts whether carried through or eventually obsolete. “I’ve always been interested in associations, memories, random combination, all the sources for ideas,” he says. Van Bruggen has carefully studied his old notebooks. “You find things you can pick up on again and you discover patterns,” she says. “One advantage of having two people from such different backgrounds is that you have to unlearn bad habits. You can see where you’re repeating yourself.”

For the Miami fountain . . . they began with van Bruggen’s suggestion of the juicer—Oldenburg had once designed a soft Silex juicer as a proposal for a monument in Manhattan’s Columbus Circle. The juicer became a plate, then a set of plates with a dishwasher. The orange was reduced to a few peels until they decided upon a bowl, which in turn became a mess of fragments, the object frozen at the moment of impact. “Miami consists of many different ethnic groups,” she says. “Every part of the bowl is unique, yet they belong to one configuration, which doesn’t necessarily come together.” They wanted to strike an ominous note of violence—Miami has experienced much racial upheaval in recent years.

A version of this story originally appeared in the February 2015 issue of ARTnews on page 96.

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