Marcel Duchamp

(1887-1968)

Fig 1. Marcel Duchamp at the Walker Art Center, (1965)
Described by painter Willem De Kooning as a ‘one-man movement’, artist and curator Marcel Duchamp, was associated with Cubism, Dadaism, and Surrealism; but never prescribed himself to any individual art movement.
He was as innovative in his art work as he was in his curatorial work and left a significant impact upon the 20th Century. His aim was to ‘put art back in to the service of the mind’ and that can certainly be seen in his challenging art work and exhibitions, such as his famous urinal ‘Fountain’ (1917) which is loaded with layers  of meaning, including religious iconography and questions of ownership, themes not obvious upon first glance.
Duchamp took a playful, experimental approach to curating. His first curation, the 1938 International Surrealist Exhibition, radically reconcieved what an exhibition space could look like. In this exhibition, he took a grand eighteenth century interior, classic of the traditional style of the era, and turned it into a dark grotto, covering all of the extravagant features and hanging 1,200 coal sacks from the ceiling. The swinging coal sacks, and the dust falling upon the well groomed viewers added a new level of experience to the exhibition. It was more of an immersion than a passive viewing, something that had not really been seen before.
 
Fig 2. The 1938 International Surrealist Exhibition
Immersion was something that Duchamp explored greatly in future exhibitions. He constantly thought of how to best use and explore the space, creating fantasy surroundings within which the work was placed. He seemed to see the gallery not only as a space to view art, but as an artwork in its own right. Elanor Filipovic encompasses this idea when she speaks of Duchamps curation style:
 “It is perhaps in the context of his exhibition designs, therefore, that one best understands Duchamp’s complex visual exercises and their centrality to his corpus—his persistent preoccupation with visuality questioned not only what and how we see, but, ultimately, what and how institutions of art make us see”
 
Marcel Duchamp was an innovative artist and curator, who left his mark on the 20th Century, teaching us to not only appreciate and consider the artworks themselves, but also the spaces in which they are displayed.
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