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peeping through the peephole

August 28, 2009

[NYTimes] “Marcel, Marcel, I love you like Hell, Marcel.” So ran a mash note written to Marcel Duchamp in 1923 by the Baroness Elsa von Freytag-Loringhoven, one of the scores of women, and many men, for whom Duchamp was a personal fixation, erotic, aesthetic or otherwise.

For many contemporary art lovers he is a fixation still, the archangel of a once and possibly future avant-garde and a patron saint of postmodernism. And the Philadelphia Museum of Art, rich with relics of his sly, seductively standoffish spirit, is a pilgrimage site.

The 1912 painting “Nude Descending a Staircase,” Duchamp’s first succès de scandale, is here. So is “The Bride Stripped Bare by Her Bachelors, Even” (1915-23), also called “The Large Glass,” a see-through mural about mechanized love and erotic frustration. And then there are the “erotic objects,” paperweight-size things molded from the body’s intimate nooks and crevices.

Duchamp’s great monument to eros, though, is the tableau called “Étant Donnés: 1. La Chute d’Eau, 2. Le Gaz d’Éclairage” (“Given: 1. The Waterfall, 2. The Illuminating Gas”). Created in almost complete secrecy between 1946 and 1966, it was his final work, and also his weirdest and most mysterious. And it is the subject of a potent exhibition at the museum called “Marcel Duchamp: Étant Donnés,” which, among other things, finesses the lingering myth that Duchamp ended up abandoning art for a life of chess and cogitation.

In reality, and by his own description, he simply went “underground.” He went on with his very active art-world social life, but told almost no one about the art he was making. He left the completed “Étant Donnés” in his bare-bones Manhattan studio when he died in 1968. The next year it was placed, as he had assumed it would be, on permanent view in the Philadelphia Museum gallery dedicated to the big cache of his work that came to the museum with the Arensberg collection in the 1950s. The gallery has been reinstalled with new material, much of it never before exhibited, to create the present show. (read)


assembly manual for Étant Donnés

Philadelphia Museum
Aug 15 – Nov 29, 2009
exhibition website

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