Marcel Duchamp: "Duchamp's Replications. Duchamp's Replications."

October 22, 1999
New York Times
October 22, 1999

by Grace Gleuck

Among the culture-rattling notions generated by Marcel Duchamp (1887-1968) were (1) that artists can designate what is art, including "readymade" objects like a urinal, a snow shovel, a bottle rack, and (2) replication. Turned off by the growing practice of artists repeating their motifs to create a lucrative "signature" style, he gradually reached the paradoxical decision that the way to avoid getting stuck in that groove was to keep to the images he had already made, replicating them literally. The replications, of course, would be works of art in their own right.

Thus challenging the importance of originality in an era of mechanical reproduction, he became "the first artist in this century consciously and systematically to reproduce his own work," writes Francis M. Naumann, a scholar of Dada, Surrealism and Duchamp.

Is such a "first" truly one of the monumental achievements of our time? To pose the question risks scorn from the devotees of St. Duchamp, as Mike Bidlo has called him, but here goes. To be sure, this is not to deny the achievement of Mr. Naumann's new book, "Marcel Duchamp: The Art of Making Art in the Age of Mechanical Reproduction," the first to focus solely on the replications -- paintings, sculptures, "readymades" and graphic works -- undertaken by Duchamp over the course of a career that has undeniably had a large effect on the way art is made and viewed today.

The richly researched book (published by Ludion Press in Ghent, Belgium, and distributed here by Harry N. Abrams) is a first-rate scholarly account of this part of Duchamp's work and is bound to be a bible for Duchamp followers. It has also spawned two shows put together by Mr. Naumann, or rather, two parts of one show, exhibited at two galleries: "Marcel Duchamp: The Art of Making Art in the Age of Mechanical Reproduction" at Achim Moeller Fine Art and "Apropos of Marcel: The Art of Making Art After Duchamp in the Age of Mechanical Reproduction" at Curt Marcus. The first show deals with Duchamp's own multiples, the second with works made by four die-hard Duchamp "appropriationists": Richard Pettibone, Elaine Sturtevant, Sherrie Levine and Mr. Bidlo.

As a lode of Duchampiana, in which puns, ambiguities and playfulness abound, the show at Moeller is pretty hard to beat, yet it by no means covers all of the artist's output. A sardine-packed profusion of more than 150 objects, it ranges from several versions of "L.H.O.O.Q" (1919), the "readymade" reproduction of Leonardo's Mona Lisa that Duchamp subversively embellished with a mustache and goatee (including a long-lost variation by Francis Picabia, who drew the mustache but forgot the goatee), to the "Box in a Valise" of 1966, containing miniature replicas and color reproductions of Duchamp's works arranged in a red leather case.

In between are such assorted items as a recording of puns by Rrose Selavy, Duchamp's alter ego; a photograph (by Alfred Stieglitz, no less) of the urinal, a 1917 readymade that Duchamp signed R. Mutt; copies of Duchamp's Cubist paintings including "The Bride" and "Nude Descending a Staircase," the shocker of the 1913 Armory Show (both 1912), and "Dust Breeding" (1920), a photograph by Duchamp and Man Ray of dust accumulating on the surface of Duchamp's construction "Large Glass" (1915-1923).

The show even includes the etchings of Duchamp's maternal grandfather, mile-Fr d ric Nicolle, which provided Duchamp's first motivation to make art. And much, much more.

In short, this painstakingly assembled homage is a feast for Duchamp lovers and an education for those who approach him more warily.
Francis Picabia's version of Marcel Duchamp's "L.H.O.O.Q.," at Achim Moeller Fine Art
But be warned: the smallness of scale of many of the objects demands close attention, and the effort to pack the show as fully as possible makes it seem like a 3-D version of Mr. Naumann's book.

Much stagier, less crowded and therefore more visually interesting is the Duchamp appropriationist show at Curt Marcus. Of the four artists shown here, Mr. Pettibone and Ms. Sturtevant knocked off Duchamp while he was still alive.

In 1964 Mr. Pettibone reproduced the Duchamp "Bicycle Wheel" of 1913-14 (a bike wheel affixed to the top of a stool). In later years he refined his Duchamp swipes, making elegant hand-carved maple shovels to echo the crude store-bought one of Duchamp's sight gag, a readymade snow shovel with the title "In Advance of the Broken Arm" (1915). And he has recently painted three copies of Duchamp's "Bride." The first was made from a book illustration, the second was copied from the first, the third from the second and so on, generating small differences from one to the other. The series will continue until demand for the painting runs out, Mr. Pettibone promises.

Ms. Sturtevant did her earliest Duchamp homages in 1967. Subtly adjusted from the originals, they include tiny photographs based on Duchamp's snow shovel, and a witty re-enactment of "Rel che," a photograph of a nude Duchamp playing Adam to Brogna Perlmutter's nude Eve in a theater revue by Picabia in 1924. The show's two other participants, Mr. Bidlo and Ms. Levine, came to Duchamp some 20 years later. Mr. Bidlo, who has by now built up a substantial Duchamp repertory, shows here a range of work from the 1980's and 90's. It includes three versions of Duchamp's 1914 "Bottle Rack," a ferocious-looking metal stand for holding bottles; a bicycle wheel entitled "Not Duchamp" of 1984, and several renderings, in 2-D and 3-D, of "Fountain," the Duchamp urinal of 1917 that earned the distinction of being rejected by that year's Independents exhibition in Paris.

(One of Mr. Bidlo's porcelain urinals from 1995-96, titled "Origin of the World," sits before his knockoff of Georgia O'Keeffe's painting "Red Canna" of 1924, here retitled "Not O'Keeffe.")

Ms. Levine contributes the largest and glitziest of the "Fountain" replicas, an outsize version in shiny cast bronze from 1995. She has also found a big, beautifully crafted Shakerlike wooden snow shovel from the 1880's and titled it "In Advance of 'En Avance du,' " a witty play on Duchamp's title. And she has made a three-dimensional figure of cast frosted glass, placed in an elegant cherry vitrine, of one of the "Bachelors" from Duchamp's most famous construction, "The Bride Stripped Bare by Her Bachelors, Even" (1915-23).