Director of Paintings and Sculptures at the Museum of Modern Art, told me
that, for his High/Low exhibition, his researchers looked everywhere for readymades
identical with Duchamp's "lost" originals (personal communication, Fall,
1997). They were able to find only two "probable" examples of Duchamp's
Fountain urinal (1917) and his Comb (1916) (Varnedoe
& Gopnick, 1991, pp. 272-278). Duchamp claimed that his "Comb" was
for dogs, but the research of Varnedoe's colleagues indicates that this strange Comb
(with such small teeth) was probably only part of a larger cow grooming
device. Duchamp's original Fountain urinal is supposedly shown in three
photographs: (1) two in his studio, strangely hanging from a door frame;
and (2) the famous photo that Duchamp had taken by Alfred Steiglitz. Inconsistency
arises again in the case of these three photographs of the urinal; the three examples
do not seem to match. Moreover, whereas we observe only one set of holes in the
"lost" original, the full-scale reproductions (and some later versions
for the Bôite) have two sets of holes, a design that is both traditional
and necessary for flushing and draining functions. I plan to do a computer analysis to try
to match the two urinals in the two photographs in order to determine whether or not they
represent the same form.
According to Varnedoe (personal communication, Fall, 1997), scholars have often tried to replicate Duchamp's 3 Standard Stoppages (1913-1914) (See Illustration 16). In this piece, Duchamp claims to have taken three meter length threads, dropped them from a height of one meter, and then glued the resulting forms to blue canvas with drops of varnish. I dropped meter threads too, following Duchamp's protocol, and never even got close to obtaining the results claimed by Duchamp. Something was very wrong. I even cut additional threads and tried to match the curves in his three threads by superimposing mine over his. The inherent elasticity of thread never allowed to exactly match the curves of his threads. Several times I came fairly close to matching my thread to his; but as soon as I tried to replicate my "experiment," the thread would suddenly become either too long or too short, a result apparently caused by the stretching or restraining efforts of my previous attempt. It was a "crazy making" experience-neither dropping nor hand manipulation of the threads created predictable results or replication. In fact, I am not sure how Duchamp was able to obtain his original results.
As for Duchamp's "lost" Underwood typewriter cover readymade (Traveler's Folding Item, 1916), Nesbit and Sawelson-Gorse (1996) discovered an actual example from an Underwood company ad of this period. But again, when we compare Duchamp's lost version with this official image, the shapes do not match. Duchamp's typewriter cover clearly does not adhere to the slanting angles of an actual typewriter.
Finally, what about Duchamp's Pharmacy, a supposedly readymade landscape image, with two colored dots placed within the background? When we look at various versions of the Pharmacy (1914) or read Duchamp's own commentaries on this piece, sometimes he specifies red and yellow dots, but at other times, red and green. It all depends on which interview you read, or which version you see (see Cabanne, 1967, p. 47; Sanouillet & Peterson, 1973, p. 41; Schwarz, 1969a, p. 445).28 Duchamp proclaimed that the ability of the unconscious to be creative was genetically inherited and could not be learned; he compares not having this "esthetic echo" to being "color blind" and not being physically able to see red and green (see Clearwater, 1991, p. 52). Is his Pharmacy readymade a "non-retinal vision exercise," where if we notice that red and green is sometimes red and yellow-and that this inconsistency is part of a larger pattern of inconsistencies in his readymades-we are led to the realization that the readymades are not merely unaltered manufactured objects? Do we pass the test by understanding that they are three- and two-dimensional non-retinal objects that can be truly perceived and understood only by the 4-D mind that questions the retinal? In the next issue of Art & Academe,29 Part II of this paper will address the "wrong readymades" in their relation to the Large Glass and the 3 Standard Stoppages.
Art & Academe (ISSN: 1020-7812), Vol. 10, No. 1 (Fall 1997): 26-62.
Copyright © 1997 Visual Arts Press Ltd.
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