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Friday, December 17, 2010

Duchamp, Modern Art and The Bicycle Wheel

I was just having a little discussion about art and Marcel Duchamp, the French avant-garde artist who was highly instrumental in ushering in the modern era of art, which transitioned art in all forms from an emphasis on technical artistic creation and production-- the artist's skill at painting, sculpture, drawing-- to the conceptual with an emphasis on the artist's framing.

"The creative act is not performed by the artist alone; the spectator brings the work in contact with the external world by deciphering and interpreting its inner qualifications and thus adds his contribution to the creative act."--Marcel Duchamp

This shift opened the doors for pop artists like Andy Warhol to explore concepts of mass production and cinema, especially exemplified by Warhol's 1964 film Empire, which consisted of 8 hours of still footage focused on the Empire State Building (I am sure the concept of thousands of individual frames passing one after the other on an unmoving object at 24 frames per second was especially titillating to Warhol's fixation with the "factory").

I was thinking of Duchamp's earlier works and came upon his 1913 work, The Bicycle Wheel from his Readymade Series, which brings this discussion into the realm of my blogging and thinking about the bicycle.

"The Bicycle Wheel is my first Readymade, so much so that at first it wasn't even called a Readymade. It still had little to do with the idea of the Readymade. Rather it had more to do with the idea of chance. In a way, it was simply letting things go by themselves and having a sort of created atmosphere in a studio, an apartment where you live. Probably, to help your ideas come out of your head. To set the wheel turning was very soothing, very comforting, a sort of opening of avenues on other things than material life of every day. I liked the idea of having a bicycle wheel in my studio. I enjoyed looking at it, just as I enjoyed looking at the flames dancing in a fireplace. It was like having a fireplace in my studio, the movement of the wheel reminded me of the movement of flames" --Marcel Duchamp

My friend Matthew sent this wonderful piece from his iPhone:
I'm at lunch reading about the re-alignment of West German art during the first ten years after 1945; the year considered the zero hour of the new german history for obvious reasons. German art houses and museums, for a time, displayed modernist art (or as it was known ten years prior: degererate) and quietly put away the neoclassic paintings previously sanctioned by the Nazi party.

This lead me to think about something that Dennis (an illustrator friend) used to always say about Duchamp ruining art for illistrators by re-aligning the art 'argument' to the artist's choice and intellect rather than the produced painting and skill of the hand.

I'm lead to wonder if in reality the change from illustrative/representative art was primarily caused by a need to disassociate from the Nazi party (read here any previous powerful state party that had a hand in the disaster of the world wars) and it's past representative icons of its ideals and a need to show acceptance for the dissenting art, which was primarily abstracted, and the ideals for which that art stood.

Duchamp, it seems, may have been the one to define and announce a trend that was already coming to be the world over.

Abstraction was a step in a process already heading Duchamp's direction.
The more I think of Duchamp the less I think of him as a catalyst. Now I think the emperor was already struting nude in front of his citizenry, Duchamp just revelled in being the first to point it out.
In essence, Duchamp was simply doing what he was best at; supplying the frame to a movement that was readymade by the process of experience.

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