Marcel Duchamp, his bride and their lovers: The Large Glass

 Marcel Duchamp, 1887-1968, American born France

 

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The Bride Stripped Bare by Her Bachelors, Even (The Large Glass), 1915-1923, oil, varnish, lead foil, lead wire, and dust on two glass panels.  Marcel Duchamp, 1887-1968, American born France.

 Philadelphia Museum of Art.

 

The artist spent eight years making this new work, new immigrant in New York.  The artist’s notes for a design began in 1912 and he published 94 of these in 1934. 

 

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The Bride Stripped Bare by Her Bachelors, Even (The Green Box), 1934.  It contains 94 collotype and lithograph reproductions, published in Paris by Edition Rrose Selavy (one of the artist’s pseudonyms).  MOMA, New York

 

Duchamp began to make The Large Glass in 1915 .  In 1923, Duchamp stopped working on this piece.  In 1926, following its first display at the Brooklyn Museum,  its two glass panes were shattered in transit. 

The artist took the accident as a ‘happy completion’ of this work.  He painstakingly glued the work whole. 

 

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On the reverse of the work and beneath his name and the date 1923, the artist has noted

         Not complete

         Broken 1931

         Repaired 1936. 

 

That the artist absorbed the incomplete state of this work and its accident, and dust,  in the work’s stride struck my emotions in such a way that I think these are as important as any of the formal characteristics of the work even though the artist could not have planned for these.

The artist’s published notes say that this is a work describing a constant state of sexual frustration.  The artist’s verbs at the back are in the masculine (of course, the French word for glass is masculine).

The top half of the glass is the Bride’s Domain.

 

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and is a view of what surrounds the bride from the Milky Way all the way to her garment and mechanical and mystical elements operating on her environment. 

 

The lower half belongs to the Bachelorsthe Bachelor Apparatus – men (Duchamp gives the Bride the pick of a priest, a delivery boy, a gendarme, a cavalryman, a policeman, an undertaker, a liveried servant, a busboy and a stationmaster)  and various artifacts – all with meanings in the artist’s private lexicon – whose intended uses are for the capture of the bride. 

 

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Being a woman,  I did not see sexual frustration.

I read the flip side: the high-ground exit of the bride from an entanglement  (so many men, such irregular artifacts!) not to her liking. 

Away also from the endless dust of housework!

It was Marcel Duchamp who said that it is the (properly instructed) viewer who makes a work a work of art (“C’est le regardeur qui fait le tableau”).  

And near The Large Glass is another celebrated Duchamp work,  his Nude Descending the Staircase of 1912 which caused a scandal and a sensation at The Armory when it was exhibited.

 

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Nude Descending a Staircase, 1912, oil on canvas.  Philadelphia Art Museum

 

I should not make specious connections but I will:   here is a woman tripping down a staircase in the same year in which the artist began to design The Large Glass.  She is in a hurry.

Isn’t she escaping?

 

The Large Glass is habitually described as ‘enigmatic’ despite the artist’s clear statement that it is about sexual frustration.

But what an adventure in imaginative pleasure and excitement for a young artist, newly arrived in New York, shaking off the constraints of his native tradition!

Working with both brain and hands in a way different from anything he had tried  until then.

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Sonata, 1911, oil on canvas; Marcel Duchamp, 1887  – 1968, American born France.  Philadelphia Museum of Art.

 

With ideas so radical that he could only have been uncertain how his artistic journey would proceed.

Unclear what a completed Large Glass could be. 

Reading into the splintering a ‘happy completion’.  The splintering offering the mind, and eye, more to work through when you are looking at a work of art of glass set against light.

The artist persisted and triumphed and we have long since incorporated  his values and vision of what art is: an exercise of the mind, translated into the real world and coherent to its viewers.  The brain diffused into artistic media.

 

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It was the artist who placed The Large Glass where it has stood for more than 50 years in front of a narrow window  with its feet on the ground and taller than a human being.

In the courtyard below a fountain often plays. 

On one side of the work, a bench is centered so that you sit and look at the work and look through it into the light of that window and the massive sepia side wall of the museum.  Big contrast with the splintered glass.

 

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It has been very pleasurable to sit with  The Large Glass in all lights  (except night) over many years.    For the example of a man who left the certainties of his comfortable native culture to feel his way in a foreign country. 

For his persistence. For his faith in what he had himself come to in his mind and with his senses and with his hands. For his acceptance of chance. For the care he took of the material objects which he used. For his eye.  For his insouciance.  For his care and support of his fellow artists.

It has been pleasurable and sustaining.

His father is there, also, sitting with me as witness.  This was painted in 1910 in time for the momentous goings-on of 1912.

 

 

 

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 Portrait of the Artist’s Father, 1910, oil on canvas.  Marcel Duchamp.  Philadelphia Museum of Art

 

The artist made us a place of lit, transparent reflection.

The Great War was yet two years away when Marcel Duchamp began to plan this piece.   When he did begin it, massive killing trench warfare had begun in Europe.

When this work was shattered in 1926, the artist’s native world was itself shattered.  He picked up the glass pieces, re-glued them with care.  And moved on with other projects.

All of which shattered artistic conventions and made new ways for artists to work and for us to see and live in the world.  This is the promise of our Western civilization.

 

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As to the escaping bride, her escape in The Large Glass was an act of the artist’s mind only because in 1912 the artist had already captured the bride.  He had already transformed her From Virgin to Bride.

He was waiting for her at the bottom of that staircase also of 1912. 

 

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The Passage from Virgin to Bride, oil on canvas, 1912.  MOMA, New York.

 

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Bride, 1912, oil on canvas.  Philadelphia Art Museum

 

This artist’s work was to move art into the mind.   He wanted to get away from what he saw as the experience of art only through the senses.  He is the father of all arts which have come to us subsequently as artifacts of the artist’s mind and thinking.

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Subsequently, Duchamp more than made that woman his bride.

 He cut her head off.  Then he had his secret way with her headless body for years until he died.

In a cork-floored, step-muffling alcove near The Large Glass at the Philadelphia Museum is a small room with a ceiling-to-floor locked  wooden door. 

Through a small peephole can be seen a headless, nude female torso, her genitalia exposed to full view and all of her lit by a gas lamp which she is holding high.  Only one person to look at a time.  No noise to disturb her.

 

Its prudish title is  Etant donnes 1° la chute d’eau   2° le gaz d’éclairage, (“Given: 1. The Waterfall, 2. The Illuminating Gas”).  1946-1966.

A private work of 20 years.  Found after the artist’s death.  Installed posthumously.  The artist never needed to account for the misogyny of the work.  Nobody but he ever knew about this while he lived.  Private.

 The bride captured:   her life force turned to the continuous service of sexual frustration! 

 

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As is known, chief among the activities to which Marcel Duchamp dedicated time after The Large Glass is chess. He wanted to be a professional chess player and gave up art while he was pursuing this. 

 

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The Large Glass is a jealous mistress.  Here is Marcel Duchamp’s Portrait of Chess Players, 1911, oil on canvas claimed and absorbed in the light of The Large Glass placed in front of the painting.

 

 

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Detail of Portrait of Chess Players, 1911, oil on canvas.  Marcel Duchamp, Philadelphia Museum of Art

 

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Study for Portrait of Chess Players, 1911, ink and watercolour on paper.  Marcel Duchamp, 1887-1968, American born France. Solomon R. Guggenheim Musuem, NY

 

 

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 The Chess Game, 1910, oil on canvas.  Marcel Duchamp, Philadelphia Museum of Art

 

To one side of City Hall in Philadelphia, in a plaza in front of one of the city’s chief administration buildings, three of Marcel Duchamp’s descendants installed  ‘Your Move’ in 1997    Chess pieces among those for other games.

The artist might well be amused at this official reminder of mind and chance in our lives in the heart of this city,  guardian of his work.

 

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Your Move, 1997, fiberglass and steel.   Daniel J. Martinez, Renee Petropoulos, Roger F. White.  Municipal Services Plaza, Philadelphia.

 

 

 

 

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Many artists have spoken of the effect on them of Marcel Duchamp’s oeuvre. 

 

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My heart belongs to Marcel, 1963, mixed media.  Niki de Saint Phalle, 1930-2002, French.  Philadelphia Museum of Art

 

 
 

The Chilean artist, Matta, commented on The Large Glass relating it to his understanding of the human mind as irrational. 

The division between male and female spheres has gone and there is disorder in the distribution of the artifacts, and the Milky Way is in whirlwind mode.

 

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The Bachelors Twenty Years Later, 1943, oil on canvas.  Matta, 1911-2002, Chilean.  Philadelphia Museum of Art

 

The American artist, Joseph Kosuth, born 1945, has installed an entire room installation near The Large Glass and bearing its imprint.  Along with dicta from Aristotle, Claude Levy-Strauss and Blondie among other elements.

 

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 End wall of Joseph Kossuth’s installed room, 2016

 

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Why Not Sneeze, Rose Selavy, 1921, side view, painted metal bird cage, wood, marble cubes, porcelain dish, thermometer, cuttlebone.  Marcel Duchamp.

  Philadelphia Museum of Art.  Incorporated into Joseph Kossuth’s tribute room, 2016.

 

The English artist, Richard Hamilton, has also commented, lovingly, on The Large Glass.  This is painted but the glass window and the mirror are luminous. 

What the young woman is reading is anyone’s guess

That the scene and probably the letter relate to the sexual frustration of someone absent is indicated by the reflection in the mirror of only the lower part of The Large Glass And by the alert pose of the woman ready to run down that staircase.  Again.

I think I see two Garden of Eden apples on the sill:  the choice of our species for knowledge over security and pretty Edenic gardens.

Marcel Duchamp would have welcomed these apples, I am sure.

 

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The Passage of the Bride II and detail, oil paint on digital chromogenic print, 2004.  Richard Hamilton, 1922 – 2011, English. Philadelphia Museum of Art

 

 

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Attic, and detail, 1995, computer-printed transparency on canvas.  Richard Hamilton, 1922-2012, English.  This print combines places and artists important to the artist including a component of Marcel Duchamp’s Large Glass.

 

I like to think the homage to Marcel Duchamp below – a coat hanger to suggest Duchamp’s profile – by the Chinese artist Ai Wei Wei  is the bride’s coat hanger for the bridal gown noted by Duchamp in his notes about the Bride’s Domain.

 

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Hanging Man, 1986, steel and wood. Ai Weiwei, born 1957, Chinese.  Philadelphia Museum of Art

The Museum says, though, that the hanger is related to Marcel Duchamp’s ‘ready-mades’ which have so expanded the modes of expression for artists, for good, for mediocre, and also for silly. 

Here is the artist either homesick for Paris, or and more likely, commenting sardonically on the attachment of foreigners to Paris. He was an atheist.  He may also be glancing backwards at  practices of the Catholic Church of enclosing certain substances, blessed, in containers.

 

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50 cc of Paris air, 1919, glass ampoule broken and later restored.  Marcel Duchamp.  Philadelphia Museum of Art

 

Ready mades which have multiplied our possible pathways through the world.

 

Robert Rauschenberg asked Marcel Duchamp to inscribe this bottle rack after he had bought it for $3. He bought it after he had seen it in an exhibition about found objects in art which included his own work.

Duchamp left a Duchampian inscription which in English reads:  Impossible for me to remember the original inscription/ M.D./ Marcel Duchamp/ 1960

Rauschenberg kept this in his study all his life and assigned to it the greatest importance.

 

 

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Bottle Rack, 1960 (third version after the 1914 original was lost), galvanized iron.  Marcel Duchamp.  Robert Rauschenberg Foundation, New York

 

As has done The Large Glass, old, unabashed, light-bright friend with many lovers and even more admirers.

My only disquiet is what has happened or not happened in France which the artist left to do this work.  A civilization stuck in its ancient cultural glories.

 

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Looking up at the Bride’s Domain from behind

 

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Looking down at the Bachelor Apparatus from behind

Fragile

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