Monday, February 22, 2016

Dialogues with Marcel Duchamp

I recently finished reading Dialogues with Marcel Duchamp by Pierre Cabanne (Da Capo Press 1979 edition [1967, Editions Pierre Belfond]) and it was interesting if you are interested in Duchamp which probably everyone in contemporary art is. Unlike Calvin Tompkins interviews this is more specific. This is in the way that Cabanne and Duchamp speak about specific works, dates, people, and places with exacting recall. Cabanne seems more of an insider then Tompkins and because of this has a statistician’s ability to direct and pin the conversation. This is helpful in revealing/demystifying the mythology that Duchamp and Duchamp fans stoke but it at times results in disjointed and impatient sequences of dialogue. Regardless, it had moments of revelation that are surprising and insightful.

I’m not one to uphold the ethos and demagoguery that elevates Duchamp in the understanding and constructing of our current state of art but he is who he is and his influence is intriguing. Below are some excerpts that I found compelling and perhaps pertinent to understanding a bit more of the art world which holds him in such an influential position.

On Taste

Cabanne: What is taste for you?

Duchamp: A habit. The repetition of something already accepted. If you start something over several times, it becomes taste. Good or bad, it’s the same thing, it’s still taste.

On the Death of Painting

Cabanne: You never touched a brush or pencil?

Duchamp: I think painting dies, you understand. After forty of fifty years a picture dies, because its freshness, disappears. Sculpture also dies. This is my own hobbyhorse, which no one accepts, but I don’t mind. I think a picture dies after a few years like the man who painted it. Afterwards it’s called the history of art. There’s a huge difference between a Monet today, which is black as anything, and a Monet sixty or eighty years ago, when it was brilliant, when it was made. Now it has entered into history- it’s accepted as that, and anyway that’s fine, because that has nothing to do with what it is. Men are mortal, pictures too.
The history of art is something very different from aesthetics. For me, the history of art is what remains of an epoch in a museum, but it’s not necessarily the best epoch, and fundamentally it’s probably even the expression of mediocrity of the epoch, because the beautiful things have disappeared- the public didn’t want to keep them. But this is philosophy…

On Fame

Duchamp: To put it another way, the artist exists only if he is known. Consequently, one can envisage the existence of a hundred thousand geniuses who are suicides, who kill themselves, who disappear, because they didn’t know what to do to make themselves known, to push themselves, and to become famous.
I believe very strongly in the “medium” aspect of the artist. The artist makes something, then one day, he is recognized by the intervention of the public, of the spectator; so later he goes on to posterity. You can’t stop that, because, in brief, it’s a product of two poles- there’s the pole of the one who makes the work, and the pole of the one who looks at it. I give the latter as much importance as the one who makes it.

On the New

Cabanne: …What do you think the “new” is?
Duchamp: I haven’t seen so much of it. If someone brings me something extremely new, I’d be the first to want to understand it. But my past makes it hard for me to look at something, or to be tempted to look at something; one stores up in oneself such a language of tastes, good of bad, that when one looks at something, it that something isn’t an echo of yourself, when you do not even look at it. But I try anyway. I’ve always tried to leave my baggage behind, at least when I look at a so-called new thing.

On the Evolution of Art

Cabanne: How do you see the evolution of art?
Duchamp: I don’t see it, because I doubt its value deep down. Man invented art. It wouldn’t exist without him. All of man’s creations aren’t valuable. Art has no biological source. It’s addressed to a taste.