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Marcel Duchamp Redux at the Norton Simon

Post #1214 • July 23, 2008, 8:16 PM • 39 Comments

In 1963 the Norton Simon Museum, née the Pasadena Museum of Art, exhibited a retrospective of the works of Marcel Duchamp. The opening was attended by Warhol, Ed Ruscha, and Robert Irwin, and it left a mark on Southern Californian art that persists to this day. The museum is commemorating the show's 45th anniversary with a little roomful of objects acquired from the exhibition and elsewhere. L.H.O.O.Q. (translated and bowdlerized by the museum as "there is fire down below") is there, as is the bottle rack, along with other ersatz objects based on long-gone works made almost fifty years earlier in a protracted episode of pique. Aside from a small lead and glass construction, dependably Duchamp's most compensating medium, the objects reek of bourgeois, co-opted radicalism. A grouping of four wall-mounted turntables with painted disks indicates the artist's dotage. Citing these trivialities with antecedents ought to embarass their makers; that it doesn't speaks ill of their ambitions. After all, Duchamp cranked out replicas, Dalí-style, as needed. Probably no art deigned museum-worthy at the time of its manufacture had ever been more commercial. That they postdate early Warhols by a year or two is telling. One could look at them as even more fake, practically disappearing beyond the singularity of fakeness, imperceptible by mortals except via a pale halo of sissy humor.

Marcel Duchamp: L.H.O.O.Q. or La Joconde, 1964 (replica of 1919 original), colored reproduction, heightened with pencil and white gouache, edition of 35, No. 6 (Arturo Schwartz edition), comp: 10-1/4 x 7 in. (26.0 x 17.8 cm); sheet: 11-3/4 x 7-7/8 in. (29.8 x 20.0 cm), Norton Simon Museum, Gift of Virginia Dwan

Marcel Duchamp: Fluttering Hearts, 1961 (replica of the 1936 original), color lithograph, Edition of 125, No. 90, 12-3/4 x 20-1/16 in. (32.4 x 51 cm), Norton Simon Museum Archives

Marcel Duchamp: Bottle Rack, 1963 (replica of 1914 original), readymade bottle-dryer of galvanized iron, 28-3/8 x 14 in. (72.1 x 35.6 cm) Norton Simon Museum, Gift of Mr. Irving Blum, in memory of the Artist




July 23, 2008, 8:25 PM

""there is fire down below"" doesn't even make sense...



July 24, 2008, 5:15 AM

Souvenirs from the Gift Shoppe of Surrealism.

The novelty of these things has long since evaporated. How long will it be before someone notices they are not much to look at?



July 24, 2008, 6:06 AM

I was born in 1963 and before I was 21 realized this guy was a joke.
Now I realize how easily people can be had.



July 24, 2008, 6:51 AM

This stuff is too lame, too slight, too banal and trivial to merit much comment. Its chief merit, if such it be, is to serve as a prime example of the fatuousness of would-be illuminati. Maybe California is full of airheads. Embarrassing indeed.



July 24, 2008, 7:25 AM

That heart thingie is mighty rich. A limited edition of a replica of a piece of twaddle that could easily have been created by that major artistic genius, Paris Hilton. And an actual museum is showing this shit? Sheesh.


ell gringo grande

July 24, 2008, 8:20 AM

And the regulars chime in...oh predictability..


Chris Rywalt

July 24, 2008, 8:44 AM

I was sort of wondering, Franklin, why you posted anything about Duchamp, except so we could all pile on like football players on a fumble.

Personally I am amused by Duchamp's work. That he got museums to convince serious craftsmen to recreate urinals, by hand, from his detailed plans -- it's some kind of dada genius.

That said, he did usher in an age of extreme stupidity and cupidity. Or maybe just commented on same, I'm not sure. Certainly his work has been badly misunderstood by a lot of people who think they're in on the joke that's on them.

Then again, how I feel about Duchamp varies by the month. Some days he's good for a chuckle, some days he pisses me off.

Incidentally, someone took me up on the offer I made at the end of that post; I sold my signed copy of the catalog.



July 24, 2008, 8:59 AM

And the drive-by shooters chime in...oh predictability..




July 24, 2008, 10:49 AM

I understood Norton Simon was primarily a collector of Old Masters and Asian art. What is/was this stuff doing in his museum? Does everybody feel they have to at least make a token gesture of "with-it-ness" to placate the fashionable horde?



July 24, 2008, 10:59 AM

hey Franklin do you know of Roger Kimball's A Long March?


Chris Rywalt

July 24, 2008, 12:00 PM

Jack sez:
What is/was this stuff doing in his museum?

If anyone can declare any object to be art, then perhaps anyone can declare any art object to be Asian.

Then again, museums are supposed to preserve certain time periods for posterity. Perhaps Simon was saving up for the "When Mankind Lost Its Collective Mind" wing.


Geoff Tuck

July 24, 2008, 12:27 PM

RE No. 9: Norton Simon bought the Pasadena Art Museum in 1975 along with the collection, which included work by a number of then contemporary artists. (And which has remained in the basement for years with the exception of "acceptable" works by Jawlensky and a few others) P.A.M. exhibitions include for example, the first retrospective of Marcel Duchamp, also Joseph Cornell's first museum show and other solo shows along with group shows with artists like Ed Moses, Larry Bell and more. Duchamp bugs me some, too - but I respect and admire artists he has influenced. The work may not be much aesthetically pleasing but I'm not sure - well I just don't know enough to be so sure about art. I understand the primacy of beauty while I also suspect there are varying ideas of beauty. I guess I'm nore of a "big tent" art appreciator - a lot of things fit in...



July 24, 2008, 1:12 PM

I've read Rape of the Masters, but not Long March. Do you recommend it?



July 24, 2008, 1:35 PM

RE No.9, 12,

It's nostalgia time and Geoff is correct. The "buyout" by Norton Simon occurred in the 1974-75 depression, this was essentially a hostile takeover, and ended with a lot of broken promises.

In the early 1960's the director of the Pasadena Art Museum was Walter Hopps who made it the most adventurous museum in the LA area. Notable exhibitions were: Kurt Schwitters, Joseph Cornell, Marcel Duchamp, Magritte, POP art, Frank Stella, Ken Noland, Jules Olitiski, Larry Poons, Jim Turrell, Robert Irwin, Ronnie Landfield, to just name a few.

This is my old stomping grounds, and I took my first painting lessons in the old museum from local AE painters making an extra buck on the weekend. Although I was just a kid, I also attended the Duchamp opening, was profoundly impressed by Cornell, and wowed by the 60's painters as I started art school.

After Hopps left, things were never quite the same again, it's just another municipal museum in the LA area.




July 24, 2008, 2:23 PM

Re #12, I get it now. Simon had nothing to do with that 1963 Duchamp show or with acquiring this stuff. It made no sense that he would have.

Re #11, I suppose that yes, now anyone can declare anything to be whatever. In that spirit, I'm declaring myself to be Scythian (the Asian contingent is a very crowded field). Jack the Scythian. Works for me.



July 24, 2008, 6:08 PM

Well, Franklin, I don't know about sissy humor, but sophomoric for sure. Actually, more like middle school.

Duchamp is like Dali for pseudointellectuals.



July 24, 2008, 6:39 PM

Make that "Duchamp is basically Dali for people who think they're too hip, sharp and advanced for Dali."



July 25, 2008, 4:27 PM

Duchamp is also for those whom statements like this make sense to:

'Abstraction has come to be one of the more interesting sites for conceptual conversations lately. Plenty of artists are exhibiting strong, physical abstractions that do not rely on irony for their punch--Dona Nelson, Louise Fishman and Bill Jensen all come to mind--but all of them bring to the genre a rigorous sense of the complicated ideas that can be contained in formal decisions of touch, scale and materiality. In this context, Olitski's and Walsh's abstract works feel like dinghies overwhelmed by the rough waters of the larger debates going on around them.'

taken from:

I came across this review of Lauren Olitksi and James Walsh while searching for images of work by Walsh. Alas, there is n'er much of his work to view, so I guess I have to settle for some blind and brainless condescension instead.



July 25, 2008, 7:07 PM

Hey, complicated ideas (as complicated as possible) and debate (talk, explanation, theoretical masturbation) are where it's at, dude. Even I know that. I just don't give a shit.



July 25, 2008, 8:47 PM

Interesting how the second-rate always gets the nod.

Nelson and Fishmen are respectable painters, not phonies or desperate wannabes, which are so common now, but neither one of them can come close to putting a painting together.

Nelson is all over the place, trying hard, but the pictures just don't cohere. Fishman persists with that heavy-handed method of color areas divided by smeared black lines which I think she ought to seriously reconsider.

Jenson is a more interesting artist than those two; he has more of a mastery of painting, and more imagintion, but the pictures have never done much for me.

Each of them has his or her fans. Walsh can paint circles around all of them. Time will tell.



July 26, 2008, 8:14 AM

Blind and brainless, dude? No problem. It's so prevalent, it's become the norm. They don't even notice it, or maybe they simply don't care. For the most part, they don't have to. The system thrives on blind and brainless, especially B & B with money. It's not really about art anyway.



July 26, 2008, 8:24 AM

Robert Motherwell

“I would say that one of the most astonishing things in my lifetime as an artist is his prominence. Thirty years ago, if somebody had said to me, ‘he may become the major the major influence on the art scene,’ I’d have said: ‘You’re out of your mind,’ and most of my judgments were quite accurate then.”

- Vivien Raynor, “A Talk with Robert Motherwell,” Art News, vol. 73, no. 4 (April 1974). p. 51, quoted in: Dieter Daniels, “Marcel Duchamp: The Most Influential Artist of the 20th Century?,” in: Museum Jean Tinguely Basel (ed.) Marcel Duchamp, Ostfildern: Hatje Cantz, 2002 [exh. cat.], pp. 37-40, pp. 25-33, p. 25.

Barnett Newman

"I want particularly to make clear that if Motherwell wishes to make Marcel Duchamp a father, Duchamp is his father and not mine nor that of any American painter that I respect.”

- in a letter to John I. H. Baur, October 20, 1957, quoted in John P. O’Neill (ed.), Barnett Newman: Selected Writings and Interviews, New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 1990: p. 208.

George Segal

“Marcel Duchamp had a revived life through John Cage.”

- cited by Wouter Kotte, Marcel Duchamp als Zeitmaschine/Marcel Duchamp als Tijdmachine, Köln, Verlag der Buchhandlung Walter König, 1987: p. 86, n. 236.

John Cage

“It is astonishing how very much Marcel Duchamp makes others creative”

- cited by Serge Stauffer in: Thomas Zaunschirm, Bereites Mädchen Ready-made, Klagenfurt: Ritter, 1983, p. 10., quoted in: Marcel Duchamp: The Most Influential Artist of the 20th Century?,” p. 27.



July 26, 2008, 11:11 AM

As I was eating lunch I watched a PBS piece on Art Basel.

It seems that the standard procedure when discussing the kind of art that is shown there is to make metaphorical allusions. There was a video of a window, for example, with bodies falling past, and this was taken by some garrulous curator who cocked her head to one side and said "sort of" a lot to signify that 9/11 was being evoked and that perhaps God meant Man to fall to Hell.

There were a number of other such explanations of things with no particular esthetic merit.

I guess once something is presented as art and this ritual is performed the objects are confirmed and can remain thus blessed for eternity.

I san "blessed" advisedly; it really is very much like religion, like medieval religion, with relics and all. It's creepy..



July 26, 2008, 12:15 PM

Make that replica relics, OP.

As for that curator's little spiel, mantra, whatever, she (like all her kind) has to say something to try to compensate for lack of aesthetic merit, doesn't she? Hell, marketing is marketing, after all, and as I said before, this game is not really about art anyhow.



July 26, 2008, 2:30 PM

re: 23

Ha ha. I was just discussing the religious aspects of Jello-World the other day. It is creepy. Creepy irrational devotion to a system of propaganda replete with all manner of illuminated clerics and bishops and high priests and archmindnumbers and kingmakers...

Maybe I should go bang on a pan in the street until they all flee town.

Painters and their audience get awestruck by oil paint far too easy. Jensen's later Asian inflected stuff is mining much of the same territory as Marden and everybody else with their printmakey lean surface, just a little less sytematic and better colour. But really, why don't people see how cold the majority of this stuff is? It's all smacks of this irritating desire to be taken so seriously. It's the contrived seriousness that really makes this kind of painting so boring and off-putting and finally, thin. And yes, Jello burdened readers, it is there to see. It is frustratingly glaringly obvious and I feel sorry for those who can't see it. But I guess the work makes up for it with the 'complicated ideas' and 'larger debates' that painting seems so obviously suited for...LOL! What the flip are these worm-tongues talking about? Open your eyes, trust your instincts, and be honest! How does painting do any of this stuff?

One thing I kind of find interesting is the mimetic response to non-natural a new kind of realism for hi-fi oil toilers that can't get out of the pthalo end of the pool...

I am really just tired of the slick tricks and gimmicks. I want more. I want it all not to get so tired so goddamm fast.



July 26, 2008, 3:38 PM

Not only religious but mystical, hypnotic and mesmerizing. The very mention of the word ART sends otherwise normal people into a state of catatonic idiocy, as if they have been smoking dope and everything ordinary is "apparelled in celestial light", suddenly precious, needing to be bought at great expense, taken to a place of honor and given a suitably reverential explanatory label.

No wonder there are too many artists and too much art, and no wonder so much of it is so bad.



July 26, 2008, 3:52 PM

so tired so fast

Painters are free to pursue the gimmicky slicking of their tricked-up schtick, however tiresome and boring. In every pursuit and industry the world over people are daily doing the same - it's each his or her own business to work in the way he or she will. I don't necessarily know how to avoid the same branding-trap, but there seems to be worthwhile fulfillment when I sweat to make good things that've never been seen before.

It's possible one of these recognizably branded artists will make as many good things in a lifetime of repeating him or herself as I will in a lifetime of struggling, correcting, adjusting and adapting to my continually fresh appreciation of visual quality. It may gall me, but it doesn't really matter.



July 26, 2008, 4:22 PM

Ahab, artists and viewers alike get seduced too easily sometimes. Any consistency is a brand of sorts I guess, but...I'm just clumsily trying to point to some tendencies as I see them.

The best painting right now isn't half as easy to come to terms with. As someone once said, 'it doesn't come so far to meet your taste.' You look at how second rate that Walsh reviewer's picks are and you just gotta wonder.



July 26, 2008, 9:28 PM

Meanwhile, in the LATimes:

"It was only 50 or so years ago that critics and intellectuals were busy constructing -- and redrawing, and shoring up -- hierarchies about what kinds of culture were good for us and which ones were bad. Literary man Dwight Macdonald wrote a famous essay about "Masscult and Midcult" -- both, he said, were degrading real, traditional High Culture. Art critic Clement Greenberg, in an influential essay about modern painting, looked at "Avant-garde and Kitsch," championing the former as essential to the human spirit and denouncing the latter as tinder for a fascist revolution. But judging from my recent conversations with a handful of literary and intellectual types -- the heirs, you could say, to the Macdonald/Greenberg tradition -- we live, today, in a pleasingly hierarchy-free, almost utopian cultural world."



July 26, 2008, 10:06 PM




July 26, 2008, 11:18 PM

Ironically, here's the LA Times from 14 months ago:

And we have to find in the work of reviewers something more than idle opinion-mongering. We need to see something other than flash, egotism and self-importance. We need to see their credentials. And they need to prove, not merely assert, their right to an opinion.

Horizontal culture is great. Just keep those bloggers away from our right to say so.



July 27, 2008, 6:26 AM

When representatives of "culture" indulge in the current smug, self-congratulatory, non-heirarchical faddism they only give themselves away. Anyone who is truly hungry for better stuff always looks for better stuff.

There are delightful things and dreadful things at either end of that artificial "high/low" scale. People who go for crappy TV entertainment and people who go for crappy esoteric arty "cinema" both like crappy stuff. And I have noticed that if they like crap at one end they like it at the other.

Going for the best is not a matter of taking part in some made-up cultural heirarchy, it is the urgent search for what is truly valuable anywhere and everywhere.



July 27, 2008, 8:43 AM

"We live, today, in a pleasingly hierarchy-free, almost utopian cultural world."

You don't say. I must be taking the wrong drugs.

I hope, for the sake of whoever is spouting this drivel, that he or she was drunk or high at the time. Otherwise, we're talking blatant bullshitter or, even worse, someone who actually believes this blithering idiocy.




July 27, 2008, 9:04 AM

I do love the bit about "hierarchy-free," though. Of course, what is meant is freedom from standards or expectations of actual visual artistic merit. Adherence to other sorts of rules and expectations is obviously mandatory. And then some.



July 28, 2008, 10:20 AM

re: 32 - 34 (go for the best...or rot like the rest)

Art doesn't position itself relative to any other domain of activity so it's easy to spin tales about...our man Duchamp knew this very's value is what it we ask ourselves, in our direct experience, what is this thing in front of me? what is it really doing? am i enjoying this? if not, then why do i care? if not, then what is really happening? is this saying something i've already heard? if yes, (most contemporary art is repeating itself) then what is really significant here? what is my real intuitive response? am i experiencing this as directly as possible or am i guided (coerced?) the whole way through by fashionable taste and not my own? what is this experience worth in light of my experience of anything else?

It's a real hindrance to instincts and the development of taste when art is bracketed off and pinned and identifiable as it has become, sliding off into adjectives only...this is the weak point in much celebrated practice as i see it...a lot of work is just kinda phony as a grey painting retrospective...most of the time there isn't much there that is of any singular or special value as an experience...unless you place a premium on spectacle, be it small, medium, or large...


Chris Rywalt

July 28, 2008, 12:23 PM

In a sense, I prefer art which isn't labeled as art at all. I like stumbling upon stuff, just things, objects, dropped off for no apparent reason. I was just following links on Franklin's sidebar here, following through one of his ads for the heck of it, and I found myself reading about these ancient marble statuettes, these little things no one's really sure what they're about. And there was this quote from Picasso where he says something like, this sculptor decided to make this thing, and his goddess is dead, and he's dead, and his people are dead, but this object survives, just because he decided to make it.

Just because they decided to make it. What a great impulse for art. Not commerce, not an audience, not fame, just because. And I like finding things like that. Maybe in someone's front yard or in the woods or in an abandoned house or an otherwise empty lot.

That art that's been bracketed off and pinned, that's maybe part of the problem.



July 28, 2008, 12:45 PM




July 28, 2008, 2:33 PM

Also small:

It's an etching of an old etcher, by Pierre Bonnard (though it might be by Vuillard).



July 28, 2008, 3:51 PM

Making it without making it.



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