Marcel Duchamp (American, born France, 1887-1968). Exterior: Etant donnes: 1 la chute deau, 2 le gaz declairage (Given: 1. The Waterfall, 2. The Illuminating Gas), 1946-66
  • © 2009 Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York/ADAGP, Paris/Estate of Marcel Duchamp
  • Marcel Duchamp (American, born France, 1887-1968). Exterior: Etant donnes: 1 la chute d'eau, 2 le gaz d'eclairage (Given: 1. The Waterfall, 2. The Illuminating Gas), 1946-66
Interior
  • 9. © 2009 Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York/ADAGP, Paris/Estate of Marcel Duchamp.
  • Interior
This summer is the 40th anniversary of the installation of Marcel Duchamp's final work, Etant Donnes, at the Philadelphia Museum of Art—one of the most enduringly strange experiences in art.

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I first saw it in college, when I was more interested in the readymades. What was I thinking?

Etant Donnes is ten times more complex than the bicycle wheels and the bottle racks and the combs. I love it for a million reasons and hate it for a hundred. Both seem inevitable. Only one person at a time can look at Etant Donnes because it's seen through two peepholes in a big wooden door in a dark room off the main Duchamp gallery at the PMA (where it lives; it cannot travel). You put your eyes to the hole and find yourself staring down the barrel of a (headless) woman's exposed, bare, dark vaginal opening. The naked, overly white woman is lying in a mess of grass like the victim of a horrible crime; she's also holding up a lit gas lamp in her left arm, something like Lady Liberty. Stretching out behind her is an idyllic forest scene (a collage of painted photographs of a Swiss grotto) that is absolutely still except for a waterfall that sparkles sort of orangey-golden-pink like a bad opera prop. (The waterfall is made of dried transparent glue and has an illuminated rotating disc behind it powered by a hidden engine.)

Duchamp, Untitled (Erotic Object), 1959. Copper-electroplated plaster
  • © 2009 Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York/ADAGP, Paris/Estate of Marcel Duchamp
  • Duchamp, Untitled (Erotic Object), 1959. Copper-electroplated plaster
No wonder it's taken this long to do a comprehensive exhibition on the piece; people have been in a kind of glazed shock. But this summer's show at the PMA includes sketches, instructions, Polaroids of Duchamp leaning ominously over the naked plaster cast in his studio while working on the piece (he died the year before it came to the PMA), response works by other artists, and its web site is fat with images and information for anyone not going to Philly before November, when the show closes. (For those will be there, catch the Jeff Wall talk and symposium on September 11-12.) A 448-page catalog is out, and so is a reprint facsimile of Duchamp's manual, originally published by late PMA director (and Duchamp scholar) Anne d'Harnoncourt.


Duchamp, Untitled (Left Leg), c. 1949.
  • © 2009 Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York/ADAGP, Paris/Estate of Marcel Duchamp
  • Duchamp, Untitled (Left Leg), c. 1949.

Most of Duchamp's more blatantly surrealistic sculptures, which are part of this exhibition, are more Arp/Brancusi than, say, Dali/Ernst. There's an artist in Seattle mining this territory today, occasionally creating something that grabs your gut, it's so beautiful and wrong.

Debra Baxters Untitled (neck crack), 2006
  • Debra Baxter's Untitled (neck crack), 2006

More images from the Duchamp show on the jump.

Click to enlarge.

Duchamp, Swiss Landscape with Waterfall (I), 1946. Gelatin silver print
  • © 2009 Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York/ADAGP, Paris/Estate of Marcel Duchamp
  • Duchamp, Swiss Landscape with Waterfall (I), 1946. Gelatin silver print

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Duchamp, Landscape collage on plywood (study for landscape backdrop of Etant donnes), 1959.
  • © 2009 Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York/ADAGP, Paris/Estate of Marcel Duchamp
  • Duchamp, Landscape collage on plywood (study for landscape backdrop of Etant donnes), 1959.

Duchamp, Untitled (Erotic Object), c. 1950.
  • © 2009 Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York/ADAGP, Paris/Estate of Marcel Duchamp
  • Duchamp, Untitled (Erotic Object), c. 1950.

John D. Schiff (American, born Germany, 1907-1976), Marcel Duchamp (With Pipe), 1957
  • John D. Schiff (American, born Germany, 1907-1976), Marcel Duchamp (With Pipe), 1957

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