Monday, 26 May 2008

Duchamp, Man Ray, Picabia: The Moment Art Changed Forever (Tate Modern, 2008)

I realize as a write this that the exhibition is now, in fact, over. Never mind. I got to this exhibition on Saturday and it was very enjoyable. The artist I did not know was Picabia, and his work was fascinating and extremely good. I particularly enjoyed the late stuff, when he was being accused of turning his back on Modernism. Actually, I found it rather stimulating, and doing quite a lot with his modernist credentials.

The Duchamp urinal was on show, which looks like it does in a photo. The very interesting Bride Stripped Bare by Her Batchelors, Even (The Large Glass) 1915-1923 was on display and a photo certainly does not do this justice. Duchamp became fascinated with working on glass and this is very much one of the big works of this phase. It is now too delicate to travel and has been reconstructed. So it is a reconstruction that we all stand around adoring. Very interesting phenomenon, and not the only example of such reconstructions in the exhibition. The urinal, for example, was originally exhibited in 1917, and the original object is now lost. This is a reconstruction made in 1964 with the artist's approval. It makes you think a lot about concepts of originality, and in many ways it is so in keeping with the spirit of modernism, the self-confidence in the joke, the tearing down of the old institutions. And yet we flock to see this stuff. Just like all the other 'more' institutional art. And it is funny how it does not seem to matter very much. The aura of authenticity does not seem to have anything to do with the message. I suppose that it is the flux of this that makes me uncomfortable, the sense of fleetingness and perhaps, too, of lightness. Not leggierezza, in the Calvino sense (or indeed in the Liszt sense). More that it doesn't matter. Maybe, that it really doesn't matter. That's an abyss I'm not ready to approach yet.

Next on the list in London is Cranach at the Royal Academy, so I'll blog on that when I get to it.

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