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Dialogues: Duchamp, Cornell, Johns, Rauschenberg
Jasper Johns, Device, 1961-62. Oil on canvas with wood and metal. Dallas Museum of Art, gift of The Art Museum League, Margaret J. and George V. Charlton, Mr. and Mrs. James B. Francis, Dr. and Mrs. Ralph Greenlee, Jr., and Mr. and Mrs. James H.W. Jacks, Mr. and Mrs. Irvine L. Levy, Mrs. John W. O’Boyle, and Dr. Joanne Stroud in honor of Mrs. Eugene McDermott.

DALLAS, TX.The first exhibition to explore the artistic exchange among Marcel Duchamp, Joseph Cornell, Jasper Johns, and Robert Rauschenberg will be presented by the Dallas Museum of Art through January 8, 2006. Dialogues: Duchamp, Cornell, Johns, Rauschenberg features more than 40 works, more than half of which will be drawn from the Museum’s own holdings and from the Marguerite and Robert Hoffman Collection, which was recently committed to the DMA.

“Dialogues is a groundbreaking exhibition that looks beyond traditional assessments and categorizations of artists to examine the subtleties and nuances of artistic influence and exchange,” said John R. Lane, The Eugene McDermott Director of the Dallas Museum of Art. “This exhibition, which features major works from the DMA’s growing collection of modern and contemporary art, fosters a reevaluation of the dynamic connection between these four seminal artists and furthers the Museum’s commitment to new scholarship on the art of the twentieth century.”

Organized by Dr. Dorothy Kosinski, Senior Curator of Painting and Sculpture and the Barbara Thomas Lemmon Curator of European Art at the DMA, the exhibition will reveal the aesthetic dialogue and shared visual vocabulary evident in the work of Duchamp, Cornell, Johns, and Rauschenberg. Set in motion by Duchamp, this dialogue was shaped through time by the artists—sometimes through direct contact, often through intense collaboration, and always through deep artistic and intellectual engagement. The dialogue is also intertwined in the art-making philosophies and strategies of Dada, Neo-Dada, Surrealism, Abstract Expressionism, and Pop Art. The exhibition will trace visual and conceptual motifs common to the artists, including the use of specific forms, such as boxes; the manipulation of motifs; the integration of language into art; the fascination with simple machines; the appropriation of icons; and the incorporation of collage, assemblage, and found objects.

“While the personal and biographical connections between Duchamp, Cornell, Johns, and Rauschenberg are well documented, the aesthetic dialogue evident in the work of these four artists is a rich and complex interaction that has yet to be explored,” said Dr. Kosinski. “The exhibition traces the process of interaction—of statement, listening, and restatement—that is the foundation of these artistic exchanges and is revealed in the works presented. These artists believed in the continuation of the dialogue through the active participation of the audience, who engage in their own conversation with the work of art.”

About the Exhibition - Through the careful juxtaposition of objects, the exhibition will highlight overt and covert dialogues that reappear throughout the work of Duchamp, Cornell, Johns, and Rauschenberg. Duchamp is the most pervasive participant in these visual “conversations,” and his work can be seen as a springboard for many of the themes that are later explored by the three younger artists. The animating agent of the exhibition is Duchamp’s Green Box (1934), a compilation of papers, images, and handwritten notes on his enigmatic masterpiece the Large Glass. Simultaneously illuminating and baffling, the Green Box embodies the artist’s love of contradiction and multiple meaning.

For Duchamp, the box in general becomes an opportunity to reference his other works of art. The Green Box is a repository for his notes and sketches about the Large Glass. In his boîtes-en-valise, the box is a portable museum, a vehicle to display and carry miniaturized reproductions of his earlier pieces, a kind of summary of his career. For Cornell (who assisted Duchamp in the manufacture of some of the boîtes), the box becomes the central form and process of his entire oeuvre. Cornell also features artistic reproductions and facsimiles in many of his Surrealist-influenced shadowboxes, such as Untitled (Medici Boy), 1953. In contrast with both Duchamp’s obvious self-referencing and Cornell’s often dreamlike juxtapositions, the exhibition will showcase Untitled (Scatole Personali), c. 1952, by Rauschenberg, who uses the box to give personal significance to a jumble of common objects and materials collected during a trip to the Mediterranean. Rauschenberg’s boxes are often large and raw, and, according to the artist, an “unpacking” of materials that contrasts with Cornell’s delicate “packing” of objects in his box constructions.

The integration of language into art is a crucial point of connection and exchange among the artists as well. In works such as Litanies of the Chariot (1961), Johns makes explicit reference to his artistic predecessor by carefully transcribing and obscuring, with his signature hatch marks, a text taken directly from the Green Box that Duchamp himself had written and then crossed out. In contrast, Cornell’s Le Caire (c.1940), filled with tightly rolled sheets of text, or his Mémoires inédits de Madame la Comtesse de G. (c.1939), containing jumbled cutout phrases, hold the same informational potential as Duchamp’s scrambled Green Box notes and are equally elusive and confounding.

The fascination with simple machines is another common link between the artists—between Duchamp and Rauschenberg in particular. Duchamp’s Green Box is filled with images, diagrams, and notations that refer back to the machine rendered in the Large Glass.

Rauschenberg’s three-part print Autobiography (1968) may be informed by Duchamp’s diagrams, and also documents Rauschenberg’s own interest in machines. One of the large-scale prints includes a photograph of Pelican, one of Rauschenberg’s many performances that incorporated flying machines. In Device (1962), Johns also recalls the diagrams and pencil sketches found in the Green Box by creating his own simple machine, affixing two wooden slats to the corners of the canvas and then using them like windshield wipers in the wet pigment to form circular imprints.

Another central theme that Dialogues will trace is the shared process of art making, which often encompasses assemblage, found objects, and collage. This borrowing also encompasses the appropriation of iconic images, a concept exemplified by Duchamp in his subversive defacement of Leonardo Da Vinci’s Mona Lisa (as reproduced in the boîtes). Following Duchamp’s lead, Cornell, Johns, and Rauschenberg also incorporate iconic images—and the Mona Lisa especially—into their artwork with their own acts of appropriation, defacement, and homage. The Mona Lisa is encased in one of Cornell’s round boxes in Untitled (Mona Lisa), c. 1940-42; embedded in Johns’ Seasons prints (Spring, Summer, Fall, Winter), 1987, that explore the cyclical nature of life (and, perhaps, art); and reduplicated in a silk-screened image in Rauschenberg’s Razorback Bunch: Etching V, 1982. This dialogue illustrates how, in creating art about art, all four artists give testament to the powerful reverberations that such images have on artists throughout history.

In the tradition of recent DMA-organized exhibitions on the modern and contemporary art, such as Degas to Picasso: The Artist and the Camera, 1999, and Henry Moore, Sculpting the 20th Century, 2001, Dialogues pushes the viewer to reconsider the work of these seminal artists of the modern tradition through a new lens.

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