The title for the exhibition is an abbreviation of the tile of one of Duchamps, conceptualism defining works The Bride Striped Bare by her Bachelors 1915-23 which I will discuss later.
The exhibition space holds instalments, sculptures, paintings, sound and language art by the above mentioned artists. It invites us to have a look at the relationship between the men and how they influence each others work and expand on Duchamps ideas.
Where to begin with Duchamp?
Unlike artist before him, and many after, Duchamps titles are as important as the art. In fact they are part of the art. They seem to become increasingly ridiculous as time progress showing a sense of humour that makes me wonder if the joke is on us. As if maybe Duchamp was seeing how far he could get away with this alabarate hoax. Personally I believe it went a little deeper for the man who single handedly redefined the very definition of what art is.
I’m going to take a brief look at conceptual art. A broad umbrella genre that Duchamp is credited with pioneering.
Conceptual art spans many genres and is an idea that is still being explored to this day. It is a movement that was pioneered by Duchamp and the other Dadaists in the early 20th century. The 1912 painting by Duchamp entitled nude descending a staircase caused such a uproar when it was entered and then rejected to be shown in Paris. The curators could not except the fact the nude was descending the staircase as nudes had traditionally only reclined. This and a few other paintings in a smiler style lead duchamp to begin his journey from traditional painting to art that would causes the establishment to question what could be considered as art.
Conceptual art, sometimes simply called Conceptualism, is art in which the concept(s) or ideas(s) involved in the work take precedence over traditional aesthetic and material concerns’ Quote Wikipedia.
Conceptualism holds the idea/concept at the pinnacle of the work as a hole. The work is carefully planed in the ideas stage and is exacted as planed with no room for artistic flair to embellish and glorify the concept.
In fact, the idea alone can be the art. Duchamp often presented an idea in a brief sketch which his 1960’s contemporaries would interpret and evolve.
Conceptual art believes that arts place is to make people question. That it is akin to philosophy rather than than to be concerned with creating an aesthetically pleasing object.
Although all artist can be accused of being conceptual artists, as all artist must surly have a concept for there work first. The artist associated with conceptualism (of which there are many spanning continents, decades and sub genres) put the Idea central and produce work which does not make instant sense asks the onlooker to question.
Perhaps the next movement could be non-concept art. Where by the art is not conceived it is just left to chance. Maybe Duchamp ready made where coming from this angle. As he stated about the bottle rack in 1913 ‘his dissuasion was disinterested’ The bottle rack was not chosen for its beauty. It held no symbolic or social connotations for him.
The exhibition at the Barbican examines the element of Chance explored by the artists. First with Duchamp in the work ‘3 Standard Stoppages’ (1913-14). This instalment consists of 3 strings that where dropped from a step ladder. 3 cut out veneers showing one side of the negative space of the strings and a long rectangular box to house the objects.
Rauschenberg follows duchamps example set with ‘Three Strand Stoppages By producing his own chance piece by dropping a muslin cloth of to a lithograph plate. These four prints, like the ghosts of the original cloth are quite beautiful quite by chance.
Cage responds to the Three Strands by dipping strings of different thickness in paint and dropping them on a huge piece of paper. ‘Strings’ (1980). Wish I’d done this for the mark making exercises!
A history of Duchamp:
Marcel Duchamp was borne (1987) and raised in Normandy France. The young Marcel showed a passion and flair for art from an early age. At 14 he produced a series of impressionistic water colour landscapes. A far cry from his mature work that would change the way we think about art forever.
Duchamp early influences where his two brothers who were already practising artists caught up in the fast paced modern movement of art. He is also said to have been very interested in the out put of Odilon Redon. This artist earlier work includes a series of drawings named ‘the noirs’. These are simple charcoal drawings with sereal, macabre and some times comical subject matter. I think you can see that they would appeal to the ironic humour of Duchamp.
To speculate further, may be he appreciated them for there simplicity too. Leaving the concept/idea of the drawings the main attraction which guides the on looker to question. Unlike heroic master paintings that we stairs at in ow of the technician who produced it.
In Duchamp earlier works, such as Nude descending Stair Case no 2 (1912) oil on canvas which is on display at the Barbican and shows Duchamps earlier mastery of painting.
A cubist and even futurist influence can be seen as Duchamp depicts the movement of the nude by showing freeze frames of a figure reduced to geometric shapes descending what we know from the title is a stair case. The muted tones of the Cubist Monochrome pallet are used in this tonal painting. The figure also has a mechanical presence. This and the movement means the painting sits well with in Futurism;
He produced a series of paintings before rejecting the process altogether to concentrate on the essence of the idea. Each time he started on a new painting he explored a new style. As if he was unable to find a style that he felt suited his vision.
Duchamp arrived in America in 1915 as a refugee fleeing the Nazi occupation of France.
He became friends with fellow artist Francis Picabia and Man Ray. The three of them would become the American centre of the radical anti-art movement Dadaism.
Dadaism a movement of the avant-garde in early 20th century Europe and then North America. Dada influenced all conceptual fields such as 1960’s Fluxusas, Neo Dada, Land art, performance and body art. As well as Surrealism, Nouveau realism and Pop art.
Dada symbolised a stand against cultural and intellectual conformity. It was spurred into conception as a back lash to the first world war. Dadaists were of a train of thought that Bourgeois nationalists and colonialism where the cause of the war. The art movement was a protest against this.
Dadaist where artistic anarchist. They embraced chaos and irrationality in there work and denied the aesthetic.
According to Hans Richter (a German Dada artist) Dada was not art, it was “anti-art” Everything for which art stood, Dada represented the opposite. Where art was concerned with traditional aesthetics, Dada ignored aesthetics. If art was to appeal to sensibilities, Dada was intended to offend.
The Dadaists developed some key techniques used widely by artist today. These include Collage, Photomontage, Assemblage, and Duchamps own ‘readymades’.
The large room housing the exhibition at the Barbican has 2 stores. The ground floor holds installations and paintings. The centre pieces being The bride.. (the grand verre). Installation pieces for the performance art ‘Walk Around Time and the stage the dancers perform on. Two grand piano programmed to play John Cage’s strange compositions sets a tempo to a sound track that also includes voice recordings and the eery sounds of dancers foot steps emanating from an empty stage that bares a sign, ‘please do not photograph the dancers’. Other works on this floor include some paintings by Duchamp and Johns and the infamous R.Mutt urinal or ‘Fountain’ (1917), ‘The Bride Being striped by her Bachelors’ aka The Large Glass and John’s later response to it which forms the stage setting for ‘a Walk Around Time’.
The top floor forms a walk around gallery from which you can look down on the bottom floor. Up here we can really see the interaction between the group of artist. From the painting of he Chess game by Duchamp which shows himself and Raushenbuerg in grossed in a battle of the wits. Duchamp paints this in a Cubist style. He shows some vague chess pieces floating between the two figures heads. This is the physical manifestation of the idea. The painting is said to represent the exchange of thoughts between the two men.
There are some works form Cage which use written Language or scores of nonsensical music which I must confess went completely over my head.
In one divided section John’s his reaction to Duchamps ready mades are housed. A series of small bronze or mixed media sculptures that look like every day objects but have been made by the artist. Not just ready made objects declared as art by Duchamp. I find all of Johns work has an has what looks like a deliberate ascetic quality. From his jittery, dashed line paintings entitled Dancers on a plane 1981 and 1986 to these small sculptures I think the artist has considered weather or not the finished piece would look good.
The Large Glass:
The Bride Striped Bare by her Bachelors, Often referred to as the Grand Veere (large glass) is credited as being the piece Duchamp was working towards trough out his artist endeavours. It is a seminal piece of modern art which many artist have used as a take off point and expanded on in there own work. Personally I find this piece very masculine, as I do with most all his work, and perhaps even heroic.
Most of the elements used to make the large glass have been used by Duchamp before. Here he brings them all together to form a kind of mysterious narrative. For me it’s a bit like looking at Egyptian hieroglyphics. The shapes are certainly interesting and I can think they mean something, but there is an unappeasable language barer between me and the understanding of this piece.
Standing at 2.77m x 1.75m it consists of oil vanish, lead foil, lead wire and dust which are used to depict various objects, many of which appear in his earlier work, sandwiched between two panes of glass.
Duchamp conceived of the the large glass in 1912. He started work on it in 1914 and continued intermittently in till 1923 when he abandoned the project. Simply claiming he had lost interest it so stopped, leaving the work unfinished.
Duchamp published all of his notes connected with the large glass in a manuscript entitled ‘the Green Box’ (1934).
The notes describe a unique rule of physics and myth which is said (tongue in cheek) to describes the work.
In this he refers to the large Glass as his ‘hilarious picture’. Explaining the Bride, in the upper panel, and her nine bachelors (which are in fact nine mechanical moulds) gathered timidly below in an abundance of mysterious mechanical apparatus.
My interpretation of it:
On the trip the tutor suggested we made our own interpretations of the works before reading the blurb. So I thought I would do the same with this confounded structure. Here goes..
Duchamps text explaining the large glass is perhaps more confusing than the piece its self. Which only adds to the allusive nature of the idea. Which perhaps is depicted by the bride floating above the on lookers head. Unobtainable. All we can do is huddle at the base of her cage like the nine bachelors and wonder. Maybe the bride is in part ment to represent Duchamp himself. Floating in another plain to the rest of us. Unrestricted by the laws of gravity. Free from rules, elevated from the mear mortality of the nine bachelors confined and dominated by the machinery which could represent societal rules. The man being forced into the mould, striped of free thought. whilst the bride is raised up on the enlightened thought and uninhibited idea.
Duchamps explanation of the work:
(Ok, so my interpretation was not quite on the money.)
This is an erotic idea. Showing a lust and longing for the unobtainable. It has been compared to Giorgione’s Italian Renaissance painting ‘The Tempest’ (1508). This shows a smartly dressed male passer by in the full flush of virility and youth stopped dead in his tracks to gaze upon a naked beauty who is breast feeding a babe. I think we can safely assume from this the man longs to be the infant sucking at the teet, but of course this is impossible. So he can only look on in wanting. Much like the nine scrawny bachelors circling hungrily under the elevated bride.
Duchamp fired nine paint covered matches at the hallow (the large gas cloud.) Only one precise the hallow the rest fall short. These are suppose to represent attempts by the the bachelors to reach there bride.
I find it interesting so much labour and intensive work went into this ‘ridiculous’ work. This from the same man who hung a bottle rack and called it art. All though there is a vast difference in the work going in to each I can see they both stay true to the idea and using art as a mean of provoking philosophical thought.
Johns, Rauschenberg and Cunningham fell for The Bride so much they devote years to describing her with John’s creating the stage set out of elements of the large glass dimensionally repositioned for Cunningham choreographed dancers to perform on. The hole thing is entitled ‘Walk around Time’ (1968).
Other works of interst:
There are dance performances every Thursday night at the Barbican. Even when the performances are not on the sound of the dancers feet moving across the floor is played from under the stage its self. Current French artist Philippe Parreno is responsible for co-ordinating all of the sound and lighting effects going on in the gallery. The effect of the sound of the dancers foot steps moving around the stage is so intoxifying that it makes the dancers appear to be perform in the imagination. A fantastic way to affirm Duchamps belief that art can exist purely in the mind if the idea is given first.
One piece in the exhibition that I particularly like is Jasper Johns ‘Memory Piece (Frank O’Hara)’ (1961-70). This bronze and mixed midia sculpture consists of a small rectangular box with three draws. The top lid is lifted to reveal a bronze foot sole. Below this sole is a perfect foot print set in sand. The bottom draw, which is opened a little way, revels a peek at the toe indents of another sand foot print. This is part of his series of life like bronzes, mostly of every day objects made to look real such as bear cans.
Memory Piece appeals to me because I find the idea of preserving foot prints in the sand, something that is so temporary and fragile. That is often used as a metaphor for are own fleeting existence, both poinent and beautiful. Because of this I think the sculpture has a cirtain poetry. Which I suppose is apt as it is the foot print of a poet.
In general I find Johns to be more consered with the aesthetic quality of the work than the others on display here. That is to say his is pieces work as well as attractive objects a they do as mechanisms for provoking thought.
To sum up:
My brain actually hurts after trying to rap it around this never ending train of thought with Marcel Duchamp started in the 1920’s. What ever you personal views are on Duchamp and conceptual art. Few people can claim to have changed the course of art history in the way he did. It certainly makes you think!
Barbican program: The Bride and The Bachelors (14 Feb – 9 Jun 2013)
DUCHAMP by Jean-Christophe Baily (1986) Art Data