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"Original" Reproductions by Marcel Duchamp at the Tel Aviv Museum of Art
Marcel Duchamp, L.H.O.O.Q., (1919) 1964. Assisted Readymade: pencil on a reproduction of Leonardo da Vinci's Mona Lisa, 27/35, printed for Pierre de Massot's Marcel Duchamp: Propos et souvenirs. Published by: Galleria Schwarz, Milan , 1965.
TEL AVIV.- "Impossible for me to recall the original phrase", Duchamp noted alongside his signature on the replica of the readymade Bottle Rack in 1960. The first Bottle Rack that was found-chosen by Duchamp in 1914, was lost shortly after being chosen, and its caption remains unknown. The replica was purchased by Robert Rauschenberg for three dollars, following its presentation in the 1959 "Art and the Found Object" exhibition. It was preceded by two signed replicas (circa 1921; and 1936) and followed by three more approvals; but it was only in the act of signing this replica in 1960 that Duchamp made a double contradictory move: on the one hand, he re-applied the step of turning something into art—the signature—onto a mass-produced, practical object whose validity as an artistic object is based not on the appreciation of contemporary authorities (the scholar or the curator) but on its very announcement as such by the artist; on the other hand, he approved this replica, sold to Rauschenberg, as "an original" by the very sentence revealing the existence of a previous original.

Marcel Duchamp's (1887–1968) stance against the conventions of taste at the core of the versions and modes of expression of the artists of his generation was expressed with sharp clarity around the time of World War I—but his influence is especially decisive in the context of the generation of artists who began working in the late 1950s. (It is interesting to note, in this context, that the circumstances of creating most of his prints, including those presented here, entail the preservation and documentation of his activity for future generations). For the artists of late modernism, Duchamp's art and conduct presented a radical precedent to the conceptual approach in art and to the perception of the act of choice as equal to art-making, and, furthermore, the perception of the very artistic work as an act of choice. This mode of thinking was rephrased, during late modernism, in contemporary contexts and various versions—some in the spirit of Duchamp, others less radical—and became an accepted value in artistic practice. It seems that this thought is also reflected, in turn, in the critical references to Duchamp's art: his contradictory conduct, stemming from his practice of rethinking concepts of art while working within them and simultaneously playing with them and subverting them, obstructed the many attempts to gather the total of his oeuvre within one conceptual umbrella. In recent decades, the interpretive gaze focuses on this very contradictory method, and the contradictions are no longer discussed as problems requiring solutions.

Duchamp coined the term "readymade" in the early 1920s, as the opposite of his generation's accepted tastes. His objects, most of them useful, were deliberately chosen for their vagueness and commonness, and mostly "out of visual indifference", that is—as a realization of his attempts to exclude his personal taste from artistic considerations, and as an expression of his declared commitment to avoid repeating himself. He chose-made a smallish number of such objects as the illustration of the conceptual change he was aiming at, and ceased creating them at a fairly early stage in the early 1920s, having concluded the process had been exhausted. However, already in 1916 he made a photographed replica of his painting Nude Descending a Staircase, and henceforth was most generous in authorizing replicas of his work. He took care to enfold these replicas within the rules of artistic replication, i.e. a limited number of signed copies, and at the same time gave them a vague status, which invalidated the concept of status conferred by rarity: by the fine differences in the authorization of these replicas, each became "an original".

Many of Duchamp's prints are a further application of the readymade concept. Similarly to those common-chosen objects, the prints offer an image simultaneously with its criticism, with Duchamp using the medium's conventions to subvert their validity. Apart from the image in the etching Première Lumière, all the images in these prints are readymade images from his work, reproductions or details from previous works, in sizes or techniques that are different from the original. These images are made in characteristically artistic printing techniques. The etchings referring to The Large Glass (produced for Arturo Schwarz's book), were executed from transparencies of the miniature replica of The Large Glass included in Box in a Valise (1935–1941), ordered especially by Duchamp. In order to compensate for the reversal taking place during the printing process, the selected images were meticulously copied onto the obverse of the transparency, resulting in the print's characteristic linear, monotonous and mechanical drawing, described by Duchamp (in a 1958 interview with James Johnson Sweeney) as devoid of considerations of taste. This means, mechanically replicating the previous image, makes a good presentation of "the beauty of indifference".

Première Lumière was indeed created as an illustration for a poem, but its status as an image and an illustration is rather deceiving. We have a word-image executed as a picture-image, which as such again serves as an illustration to the book's text. Its context is not quite clear: is it an independent image, or some subtitle for the poem? Does the negation particle "NON" emphasize the negation of the retinal image, or should it be read as Duchamp's reaction to the poem's atmosphere and title? And, bearing in mind Duchamp's fondness of puns, might this also be such a pun, on the French negation particle "NON" and noun "NOM" (name), also referring to an absent signified and inviting an expression about the context-dependent meaning of words? The enigmatic, boundary-crossing image is thus discussed from various starting points. It seems that, in the spirit of the Duchampian principle placing art as a process of thought and change, all these queries may be said to be valid.

Tel Aviv Museum of Art | Marcel Duchamp | Robert Rauschenberg |




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