Sunday, June 10, 2012

Duchamp's Uninformed Followers

God Protect me From Duchamp's Followers To paraphrase the above saying by Oscar Wilde's seems appropriate when we reflect on why Marcel Duchamp refused to be considered as the godfather of Pop Art, Neo-Dada, happenings, etc. He actually called Pop Art "Pup Art" and is on the record saying that none of this should be assigned to his influence, or to Dada. I have thought about this since reading these quotes by Duchamp back in the late 1960's and finally realized what he meant. The Dadaists did their protest as artists and writers who, because of War I and other horrors of the early 20th Century, turned fine art into low art. Duchamp's LHOOQ re-working of the Mona Lisa is a prime example. Fine art into low brow culture as a protest. However, his self-declared progeny from Warhol to all the grant-supported conceptualists of today, the loyal opposition to the fine art system, are doing the exact opposite. They are trying to turn popular culture, advertising logos and so on into fine art, which they can sell to museums and collectors. It's the exact opposite of what Duchamp and his colleagues were doing in their time. Also the ban placed on painting in the decades since his death wouldn't totally please him. His supposed disdain for painting is clarified by what he told André Derain after WW I. He told him he stopped painting because he had run out of ideas. He thought that the world had enough decorative paintings and was holding out for something new. But at the same time he was best friends with the major painters of the Surrealist Movement and helped design their exhibitions through the decades along with André Breton. Amy Ernst, the granddaughter of the great German artist Max Ernst, told me that Max, Duchamp and Picasso played chess by mail for twenty-five years. What would all the 'socially engaged' artists who conform to the rules of today's institutionalized subversion say about this? Here is the arch-fiend of all things politically incorrect, Pablo Picasso, actually right there on good terms with the figurehead of the 'ban painting' movement of today. There's Max Ernst right beside him too. He was also against formalist painting that was mainly about paint surfaces and not the poetic imagination that Breton called for. But surely Duchamp could be counted on by today's post-structural theorists to side with Man Ray, his oldest friend and back up this false, anti-painting lineage. Man Ray in fact is on the record saying that his paintings were his main contribution, that photography was mainly a way he made money in the 1920's and '30's. His technical discoveries, fascinating as they may have been then, like photograms, were also done by Moholy Nagy and others and 'solarization' was at least partly discovered by Lee Miller. So as the academies churn out classes full of Duchamp devotees waiting for a grant to pile stuff around the floor in homage to him, might do well to consider where Duchamp's true sympathies lay.