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After a long needed break we’re finally back and pleased to kick start the New Year. Prior to the break we asked the other students outside of our course to give us their thoughts on “what is curating” at the London Met ‘Christmas cracker’, and following that theme we’ll be looking into Duchamp and his eccentric ways within the curatorial field, along with a recap on our findings from the Christmas event. You’ll see us explore this theme event further, as 2014 has the realisation of two exhibitions. “A Sense of Things” is currently showing at the Zabludowwicz Collection till the 26th January, six of our colleagues along with seven Goldsmith students have taken this curatorial endeavour together – and we’ll be interested to hear their thoughts on the process of creating an exhibition. March will see the rest of our group exhibiting in the Cass bank space, more on that to come… So! 2014 here we come!

-CuratingTheContemporary.       

Pic 1

At the beginning of this blog we started with the question: should artists produce art, should writers write, and should curators curate? These are three separate roles, three points that seem to keep each in check, but what if three were one? This is an interesting topic that seems to centre on the “Artist/Curator phenomenon”[1] – bringing a revision on art history and some of its prominent Avant-Garde. Marcel Duchamp curiously seemed to have left his imprint almost everywhere in our art world – and for us curators, two exhibitions this artist lent a hand in standout: “International Exposition of Surrealism”, 1938 and “The First Papers on Surrealism”, 1942. However lets not delve into this section of Duchamp’s history.

It came to my attention that many of Duchamp’s activates could be attributed to the contemporary curator, and be seen as a possible forerunner – but more interestingly if Duchamp is now revisited in this light, what things could be revealed from his development into an artist/curator? So we know that part of the Duchampian legend centres largely over his Large Glass piece, and if we examine the dates (1912-1923) of this piece’s inception and the artist’s supposed exit from the traditional “artist” role (1912), this bring us to an interesting point in Duchamp’s life. You could view this as  Duchamp’s entrance into the virtual, with the Large Glass piece being an experimental project for his interests in display.

The Large Glass

The Large Glass

The Duchampian myth always seems confused, a testament to its success, and when it comes to the Large Glass its origins seem scattered. Some have argued that it began when Duchamp stayed briefly with the artist Apollinaire, others when he travelled to Germany, or when he saw the performance Impressions d’Afrique (which was largely on presentation).[2] While all three have been examined and can be seen as adding to the inspiration of the Large Glass, if we look at this performance which Duchamp watched and the fact that he himself thought painting had reached its potential (hence his exit from the traditional artist role), we can speculate that the display of objects became a interest to him – something that becomes more pronounced towards the end of his life with his Portable Museum pieces.

The Portable Museum

The Portable Museum

If we take a look at the Large Glass and see the processes, which Duchamp took while he was making this piece, we can see that two compositions (the Bride machine and Bachelor machines) have several elements that we instantly recognise. There’s a car manifold as part of the “Bride”, and there is also his Chocolate Grinder (a piece that Duchamp reproduced and examined extensively) standing in for one of the “Bachelors.” Was he collecting objects to display for this piece?

Another interesting aspect about Duchamp during this time with the Large Glass was how he became heavily involved with the study of the fourth dimension (a theoretical window into time), which leaves us with something to think about when turning our attention to Duchamp’s final Valise, The White Box (the Portable Museum), whose content contained his note on this study with several early notes on the Large Glass.[3]

Duchamp presents an interesting case to the curatorial field. He came before any formal recognition of the title “curator” – however his actions can be juxtaposed against our contemporary practices and affect our understanding of what is acceptable for a curator. Leaving us searching for the beginning of Duchamp’s transformation into an artist/curator and what could this still reveals to us.

Alejandro Ball


[1] Blais, C.L., The Artist/Curator Phenomenon: (Post)Modern Maneuvers in the Economy of a Relation (Boston University, 2005).

[2] Parkinson, G. The Duchamp Book (Tate Publishing, 2008). p.25.

[3] Ibid. p. 42, 106.

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