I just finished reading the book Duchamp A Biography by Calvin Tompkins. It’s a book I would highly recommend to everyone. Some little known facts about Duchamp; He never had gallery representation. He never made a living from his art. He earned his living by selling other European modernists art that he had purchased. He was an art consultant and he gave French lessons. He also disliked the Abstract Expressionists overblown claims. Here’s one of many pithy quotes, “The entire art scene is on so low a level,”…” is so commercialized-art or anything to do with it is the lowest form of activity in this period. This Century is one of the lowest points in the history of art, even lower than the 18th Century when there was no great art, just frivolity. Twentieth Century art is a mere light pastime, as though we were living in a merry period, despite all the wars we’ve had as part of the decoration.” All artists since the time of Courbet had been “beasts,” he went on to say, and should be put in institutions for exaggerated egos. “ Why should artists, ego be allowed to overflow and poison the atmosphere? Can’t you just smell the stench in the air? - page 418
I went to art school in Philadelphia at the Philadelphia College of Art. The Philadelphia Museum of Art housed the Arensberg Collection which is without a doubt one of the greatest collections of European Modernist Art. It also holds most of Duchamp’s work including the Large Glass and Etant Donneé. This collection was put together by Duchamp for the Arensbergs. I had always thought that the collection was turned down by the Metropolitan Museum of Art and the Museum of Modern Art. This is not true. It appears that the Philadelphia Museum of Art had the largest size galleries and were most able to present the whole collection that numbered over 800 pieces. In any case, I remember in Spring of 1969 wandering into the room that held Duchamps work. I had to do a report for my art history class. I also remember seeing Etant Donneé, a piece that had just been opened to the public view. True to Duchamp’s wishes there was no fanfare, no opening, no press releases. I felt as if I had stumbled into a strange world that was so entirely different from all the other works of art in the museum. I had no idea of knowing that in 1969. Duchamp was really not the great influence that he is today. I do know that when I went back to the painting class I had no desire to paint but immediately started doing assemblages using using discarded mannequins.
In these times of academic art, overheated art marketing and airport sized jumbo art institutions Duchamps’ human scale art is an almost perfect antidote. He didn’t believe that academicians, theorists, as well as critics had any more insight into art than did the artist. Here’s another quote,” Works of art could not be understood by the intellect, he maintained, nor could their effect be conveyed in words. The only valid approach to them was through an emotion that had “ some analogy with a religious faith or a sexual attraction---an aesthetic echo.” This echo, however, was heard and appreciated by very few people. It could not be learned---either you had it or you did not---and it had nothing whatsoever to do with taste, which was merely a parroting of established opinion. “Taste gives a sensuous feeling, not an aesthetic emotion,” Duchamp said. “ Taste presupposes a domineering onlooker who dictates what he likes and dislikes, and translates it into beautiful and ugly,” whereas the ‘victim’ of an aesthetic echo is in a position comparable to that of a man in love or a believer … when touched by aesthetic revelation, the same man, in an almost ecstatic mood, becomes receptive and humble.” – Page 368-369