Contemporary art for dummies: Marcel Duchamp

Contemporary art has always been considered as transgressive and difficult to interpret; taking as reference the art works done in the past. Indeed the art of the XII century or the Renaissance for instance is a form of tangible art, that we can judge through our senses. Contemporary artists, such as Duchamp, Piero Manzoni or Lucio Fontana instead tried to explore another ways of expression, diverting permanently from the millennial history of the realistic art that describes (or represents) the visible reality. Unlike Picasso or Matisse (that represent the previous art generation: surrealists, impressionists) Duchamp no longer utilizes the typical art techniques: sculpture, painting…but instead he changes the whole art paradigm: taking an already existent object, a common one like a urinal, affixing a signature and in this way transforming it (from an useful object to use to an object with an aesthetic function, no more a practical) to art. The practice of “ready-made“, provocative and desultory art, became stylistic and opened the world of art to totally unexpected and surprising outcomes, whilst also marking the start of many movements of conceptual inspiration that would begin to grow around the world since WWII.

Historically, the first “ready-made” art produced by Duchamp, in his studio in Paris, decided to mount a bicycle wheel on a stool. The piece had no specific purpose, and probably was not designed to be shown, but what he had done was to create his first “ready-made”. This term distinguishs those ready-made on which he participated with some minimal intervention, from those which did not deserved any intervention. His second piece was again a ready made: a bottle rack that he bought in a store. Another unadjusted piece was the ready-made “traveling sculpture” which is actually a collection of rubber strips arranged in a certain way. Among Duchamp’s ready-mades is a photographic reproduction of the Mona Lisa on which pencil mustache and goatee, and in places the words “LHOOQ” which, read in French, takes the meaning “She hot ass”. This remains as probably his most famous piece to date and most iconic.

The artistic activity throughout those years centralized mainly in the production of the “Large Glass“, piece which Duchamp stopped working on , leaving unfinished, in 1923. This masterpiece, after an installation in an art gallery has been broken by fitters and has been left in this way by Duchamp. From this year on he stopped primarily being an artist to devote himself to the career in international chess.

But he devoted himself to one last work, in absolute secrecy, for about twenty years, from 1946 to 1966: “Etant donnés: 1 la chute d’eau, 2 le gaz d’éclairage”. The work, enigmatic from the title, consists of a worn wooden door, from whose slit, peering through, captures a partial view of a lying naked girl with a gas lamp in her hand. Here is a VIDEO of the inside view!

This last work, which was only discovered after his death, concludes the path of an artist who, through his endeavors, continued to amaze, and contributed massively to a new form of conceptual art.

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