Friday, April 9, 2010

Duchamp Speaks

Libraries are great. A couple weeks ago I found a 1960 gem called The Artist's Voice by Katharine Kuh. Imagine having an opportunity to meet and talk with Pablo Picasso, Josef Albers, Georgia O'Keefe, Alexander Calder or Hans Hofmann. Sounds like a dream assignment to me. For those of you not students of modern art history, a few names in this book might be obscure, but for those who have been involved in the arts in any semi-serious manner the seventeen artists interviewed here by Ms. Kuh are movers and shakers. It is an impressive collection of interviews.

What's impressive is how these artists talk with such easy informality, with none of the pretentious mumbo jumbo we can sometimes get from art critics or might expect from people in the arts. They're just real people being themselves.
Kuh, an art consultant and curator, leveraged her connections to bring about a truly wonderful book which has now been reprinted for a new generation.

While an art student at Ohio U. in the early 70's Marcel Duchamp's work made an impression on us, though his limited output also left me confused. (All three of his brothers were artists also, by the way, two of them painters.) And what was that two year name change to Rrose Selavy all about? ("Eros, c'est la vie" it turns out.)

The meaning of his work has been endlessly dissected one wonders what the original artists were thinking. Kuh's dialogues with Duchamp, Tobey, Picasso give us an opportunity to hear them in their own words. It also makes you realize that too often we interpret interpretations without ever really engaging what is going on. I'm not so sure Duchamp had his tongue so firmly in cheek as late 20th century analysts extrapolate. To some extent he was joking with us, but that was part of the point. Don't take it all so seriously.

When asked by Ms. Kuh about his decision to move away from the physical aspects of painting, Duchamp discusses the retinal approach to making pictures and how artists had become liberated from having to be employees of patrons or the rich and were now free individuals who could negotiate as equals with collectors. This liberation initially took the form of impressionism, but was evolving. "One hundred years of the retinal approach is enough," he said. "Earlier, paint was always a means to an end, whether the end was religious, political, social, decorative or romantic. Now it's become an end in itself. This is a far more important problem than whether art is figurative or not."

When asked about the influence of modern machines and science on his work, Duchamp began by stating, "People living in a machine age are naturally influenced either consciously or unconsciously by the age they live in." No question this observation is as true today as ever, resulting in our digital arts and multimedia technologies. Technology has not only made an impact on how artists make and share their art, but also on how we encounter and interact with art... at least some of its forms.
If you have an interest in 20th century art, the book is highly recommended.
Image right is his famously controversial Nude Descending a Staircase.

No comments: