If you feel a little lost when it comes to understanding the conceptual art of the last two centuries, here is a rare chance to find your way — an exhibition by its primary inventor, Marcel Duchamp (1887-1968).
The Speed Art Museum’s current exhibit, “Marcel | Marcel,” features two copies of the artist’s limited portable works: “Boîte-en-valise” (1941) and “Boîte-en-valise” (1966), translated as “box in a suitcase.” Unfolding in a similar fashion as the dual artworks, the exhibit, curated by the Speed’s Julien Robson, is situated in two adjacent galleries. A large chessboard dominates the first — much as the game influenced Duchamp’s thinking, art and life. In an interview with Pierre Cabanne in 1966, Duchamp explained his love of chess: “It was the imagining of the movement or the gesture that makes the beauty … It’s completely in one’s gray matter. There is no social purpose.”
In the center of the second gallery, under identical Plexiglas vitrines, the dual suitcase pieces sit side by side. They are pulled opened and unfolded, like compartments in an old steamer trunk, to reveal a 69-piece monograph of Duchamp’s work. The pieces consist of photographs of sculptures and prints of paintings that are fixed onto 1/8-inch museum board and laid out around each of the cases. Attached inside each case are miniature replicas of Duchamp’s readymades, including the infamous “Fountain” (a urinal, 1917). At the center of each of the wood-framed cases is a transparency printed with details from his pivotal work, “The Large Glass,” or “The Bride Stripped Bare by Her Bachelors, Even” (1923), which influenced the development of the two pieces.
Completed in 1923, “The Large Glass” was the manifestation of eight years of ideas and experiments with oil, varnish, lead wire and foil on glass. It was not meant to be viewed like a traditional painting. It had its own “box,” or album of notes, calculations and reflections that Duchamp wanted to the viewer to consult while viewing his work. In the Cabanne interview, he said: “One must consult the book (later ‘The Green Box’) and see the two together. The conjunction of two things removes the retinal aspect that I don’t like.”
Duchamp’s dislike of the “retinal aspect” came not only from his interest in the beauty and physics of motion, but also from his basic distrust of systemization. In 1912, after adopting the concepts of Cubism, Duchamp painted the famous “Nude Descending a Staircase, No. 2,” only to have it refused “in furore” by other Cubist artists in a show at the Salon des Independants in Paris.
Lining three walls of the second gallery of “Marcel | Marcel” are 81 descriptions and images of Duchamp’s works, which are represented in reproductions found in each “Boîte-en-valise.” Its play on duality also alludes to Marcel’s invention of a female alter ego, Rrose Sélavy. In 1920, Sélavy was born out of Duchamp’s desire to change his name to connote a different religion. He came to believe, though, that it was much easier to change his sex. The name came to Duchamp as he was signing “en 6 qu’habillarrose Sélavy,” crudely translated as “balls to you,” onto Frances Picabia’s painting “Oeil cacodylate.”
Take this rare chance to spin your wheels and head down to see the work of one of the most influential artists of the 20th and 21st centuries.
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‘Marcel | Marcel’
Thru Feb. 17
Speed Art Museum
2035 S. Third St.