Duchamp’s Nude Ladies, Sexual Organs And `Morbid` Double Aesthetic Standards

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Marcel Duchamp (1887-1968) was a French artist whose ideas and works had a phenomenal influence on modern art forms. Though Duchamp’s work, ideas, and associations have been linked notably to Dadaism and also to Surrealism, his works could be considered to be very peculiar, and thus defies specific or typical categorisations. Art had a strong influence in Duchamp’s upbringing. His maternal grandfather, Emile Nicolle, was a painter and engraver and Duchamp was exposed to his works from infancy.

Two of his senior brothers were also artists - Jacques Villon (1875-1963) who was a painter and a printmaker, and Raymond Duchamp-Villon (1876-1918), who was a sculptor. After schooling at the Lycee Corneille in Rouen, France, for seven years (aged 17), Duchamp decided to be an artist though he had showed impressive academic acumen in mathematics. Duchamp was influenced by various art movements. His early paintings while he schooled at Lycee Corneille were more aligned towards Post-Impressionism, Fauvism and Cubism. Some of these works were drawings and watercolour paintings that showed his sister, Suzanne, in different poses.

The work of Odilon Redon, a symbolist painter, also influenced Duchamp during his early years of painting. Though Redon’s works were not overtly unacademic, they were quite individualistic. Between 1904 to 1905 when Duchamp was studying at the Academie Julian, he drew and sold humorous cartoons that combined visual and verbal puns to create effect. Also, his association with his eldest brother’s (Jacques Villon) discussion group – the Puteaux Group – may have influenced the Cubist styles that featured in works like Coffee Mill (1911) and Portrait of Chess Players (1911).

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The Cubic depictions of overlapping frames and the use of multiple perspective featured in these paintings of Duchamp. The first work of Duchamp that caused a major stir and controversy in the art world was his painting – Nude Descending a Staircase, No. 2 (1912). It could be said to be the fist in a series of artworks that caused ‘explosive’ sentiments about his works – some of admiration and some of abhorrence. The painting depicted a mechanistic nude figure in motion. Cubic influences of fragmentation and synthesis featured prominently in this painting.

Duchamp had first presented the painting for exhibition at the Cubist Salon des Independants in France but had to withdraw it, as he was not prepared to change the title of the painting as demanded by the jurists of the exhibition. The following year in 1913, the ‘Nude Descending a Staircase, No. 2’ was featured in the Armory Show in New York City where is caused much controversy and became the focus of the exhibition. The New York Herald described it as a “cyclone in a shingle factory”. (“Encyclopedia Britannica”, http://www. britannica. com/eb/topic-172862/Marcel-Duchamp)

The ‘success’ in New York precipitated more exhibitions and works there and it was in New York that he became associated with Dadaism. Dadaism as an art form or movement, sort to present a radical way of liberating the individual from the confines of logic and reason. Hence, “Dada was spontaneous, contradictory and paradoxical; revolting against traditional social and artistic values. ” (“Hsiu-Li Kuo”: 8) Duchamp himself, through his associations with Dadaism defined it as “the nonconformist spirit which has existed in every century, every period since man is man”. (quoted in Dada and Surrealism, 11)

In pushing the boundaries of art beyond orthodoxy, Duchamp invented ‘ready-made art’. This entailed the use or presentation of everyday objects as a designation of art. Materials like wood, cardboard, nails, wire, paper, etc, were put together or assembled into sculptures. A typical example is Duchamp’s ‘Disturbed Balance’. The level of unconventionalism depicted in Duchamp’s work could be said to represent a ‘mockery’ of art. To Duchamp, the “significance of art was revealed in the act of making it, and this act should be able to critically challenge the existing value system. “Hsiu-Li Kuo”: 8) According to the Encyclopedia Britannica: “His irreverence for conventional aesthetic standards led him to devise his famous ready-mades and heralded an artistic revolution. ” (http://www. britannica. com/eb/topic-172862/Marcel-Duchamp) Based on his invented ‘ready-made art’ Duchamp came up ‘Bicycle Wheel’ in 1913. This ready-made art featured a bicycle wheel that had been mounted on a stool. In 1914, Duchamp produced another ready made art – the ‘Bottle Rack’ – a signed bottle drying rack, and in 1915, he produced ‘Prelude to a Broken Arm’. (“Calvin Tomkins”)

Perhaps, the ready-made art that shocked the art world the most was ‘Fountain’ produced in 1917. The ‘Fountain’ was a urinal presented as an artwork, with a signed pseudonym, R. Mutt. (“Calvin Tomkins”) This work was rejected from being exhibited by the Society of Independent Artists causing Duchamp to resign from its board. The exhibition committee had held that the ‘Fountain’ was not an art work hence their decision not to allow it to be exhibited. Evidently, Duchamp’s concept of art kept causing uproars due to the unconventionalism that had been a notable with his work since the ‘Nude Descending a Staircase, No. ’. However, the fact that He did not particularly associate himself with a particular art form even if he ‘borrowed’ from it portrays the level of individualism that typified his work. Duchamp was for instance noted to detest the seriousness of the Cubists and thus abstained from contributing to theoretical discussions on Cubism in his brother’s study group - the Puteaux Group. (“Calvin Tomkins”) The lack of an overt ‘seriousness’ or reverence with which he approached art is perhaps summed up in his assertion about art - “I’m afraid I’m an agnostic when it comes to art.

I don’t believe in it with all the mystical trimmings. As a drug it’s probably very useful for many people, very sedative, but as a religion it’s not even as good as God. ” (Quoted in The World of Marcel Duchamp, 10) Duchamp’s early association with cartooning and the use of visual and verbal puns could also be seen in works that he did in later life. This was perhaps most evident in his 1920s artistic collaborations with Man Ray. Working under the pseudonym Rrose Selavy, Duchamp posed in a series of photographs where he dressed as a woman. These photographs were taken by his collaborator, Man Ray.

The pseudonym - Rrose Selavy – played on language to carry across an erotic message. Rrose Selavy sounded like Eros, c'est la vie in French which translated to English means Eros, such is life. After the 1920s, Duchamp became less interested in art in general and concentrated on chess though he was noted to be involved in staging of exhibitions with the Surrealists in the 1940s. In1942 for example, his exhibition at the First Papers of Surrealism show in New York, included a woven three dimensional web in a spaces within rooms. Duchamp’s last artwork was ‘Given: 1 The Waterfall, 2. The Illuminating Gas’.

This artwork could only be viewed by peeping through a hole in a wooden door, and it depicted a naked woman lying on her back with her legs spread apart and her face covered. The woman holds a gas lamp in one hand with a landscape in the background. This work was done secretly and was its exhibition came as a surprise to the art world as Duchamp was thought to have retired. (“Calvin Tomkins”) It may be argued that this last work of Duchamp not only characterised him as one of the most famous modern artists, but also a daring one who pushed the philosophical and aesthetic boundaries of art beyond conventional orthodox conceptions.

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Duchamp’s Nude Ladies, Sexual Organs And `Morbid` Double Aesthetic Standards. (2017, May 10). Retrieved from https://phdessay.com/duchamps-nude-ladies-sexual-organs-morbid-double-aesthetic-standards/

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