I’ve been in love with Marcel Duchamp since high school. This isn’t something my husband needs to worry about as Marcel is currently dead and has been since 1968. I first met him in my Year 13 Art History class through his readymades, his fountain, his bicycle wheel, Rrose Sélavy, and all the satire and absurdity of the Dada movement.
I had read somewhere that the Fine Art Society in New Bond Street were hosting a new exhibition called “What Marcel Duchamp Taught Me” and I knew I had to go. I’d never been to the Fine Art Society before, despite spending rather a lot of time in Mayfair, as they’re only open Monday – Friday 10am to 6pm and that’s my prime time for earning a crust. For this exhibition they opened especially on Saturdays so I booked one in with Mark, the aforementioned husband.
The exhibition closes on Wednesday 5th so I really was leaving it to my last available minute by going on Saturday. That’s just how I roll.
I don’t know how much you know about Duchamp but he’s so pleasing to my soul. He’s the grandfather of conceptual art. I think you have to be kind of sarcastic and maybe a little bit cynical to appreciate it. His work is about taking the piss. It challenges those who try to define what art is, and what it should be. Those who seek to make art only for the well educated and wealthy. Fuck that. Art doesn’t need your definitions.
He once drew a moustache on a postcard of the Mona Lisa and titled it L.H.O.O.Q. – which when read out loud in French sounds awfully similar to “she has a hot arse”, and makes an amusing play on the English word ‘look’. Another time he got a urinal, turned it upside down and submitted it to a fancy art exhibition calling it a ‘fountain’. He also used to dress as a woman named Rrose Sélavy and have fellow artist Man Ray take fashion photographs of him. Mother fucker was trolling before we even had an internet.
This exhibition is full of pieces by artists working today who have been inspired by Duchamp. Because it’s all so conceptual and mocking of the definition of art, there are plenty of instances of people looking intently at something and trying to figure out if it’s part of the exhibition or just a light switch. Or a lap top. Or a bathroom. Things like this:
Looks like a mess on the wall where someone has stolen an artwork. Then you read the plaque beside it:
And you see the sparkly stuff embedded in the wall and realise that this could actually be it. You must be prepared to laugh, and aware that, “nothing is serious enough to be taken seriously” as Duchamp once said.
A lot of the pieces poked fun at traditional art, and played with the old masters. Like this rendition of the Birth of Venus by Botticelli, without Venus.
Or this great work of art by Pissarro made to fit into a corner nicely:
Or Vermeer’s Lace Maker cunningly mending her own painting:
All those are by Nancy Fouts. I also really like the ‘Concealed Weapon’, which was an object hidden in a ball of string:
This eye test had some interesting messages when you read through it, and a moving eyeball!
We also admired a box of useless pipes, and some animal vertebrae dipped in silver:
It’s the kind of exhibition that you need to be with a friend to really enjoy, because there are so many pieces that you just HAVE to show someone else. You know that feeling when you look at something, then you get it, then you just have to find a friend so you can watch them go through the same journey of discovery? It’s so much fun. Mark’s favourite piece was this ‘Self portrait with Nest’:
I’m really pleased I was able to go. It does remind me that another trip to Tate Modern is in order, to once again see the original Duchamp pieces they have on display there. Well, actually they are copies, but copies made by Duchamp himself in the 60s, as his original early pieces were so controversial that they accidentally went ‘missing’. But that’s another story for another time. Let me leave you with another great quote from the wonderful artist that inspired all this: