Friday, July 01, 2011

Your Daily Duchamp

In 2009, this perfume bottle, from the personal collection of Yves Saint Laurent and Pierre Berge was auctioned for the amazing price of 7.9 Million Euros. It is the only surviving piece of an edition, which Marcel Duchamp created in 1921 as an "assisted ready made". In other words, it was a mass produced object, selected and modified by Duchamp as he tried to redefine the process and and concept of art and creativity. Art became conceptual and the object chose the artist.
He modified a mass produced object, a glass perfume bottle by the Parisian company, Rigaud.  He swapped the labels with his design featuring his conceptual female alter ego, which he used for much of his ready made work, Rrose Selavy. The portrait was taken of him in drag as Rrose by his friend, Man Ray.
Originally, the commercial perfume by Rigaud, was called "Un air embaume" (Fragrant Air). Duchamp makes it Belle Haileine (Beautiful Breath) and refers to title of the Offenbach opera,  Belle Helene, which was about Helen of Troy, the most beautiful woman in the world, whose abduction by Paris sparks the Trojan War. This play on words, directs us back to the portrait of Rrose Selavey. The Double R spelling of Rrose is a pun....R Rose: Eros. The name phonetically in French sounds like the phrase, "Eros, c'est la vie".
The chain of associations becomes more involved with the words on the lable "Eau de Voilette" (veil of water) and the allusion to the real term, "eau de toilette".
The ready made objects by Duchamp and the interchanging of identities made a huge impact on the idea of what could be art in the 20th century. Both of the ideas that the erotic confusion of identities could be conceptually interesting as well as the idea of authorship were radical issues. By using Rrose Selavy as an alter ego to sign the works of art, Duchamp focuses on the issues of the non-material interests of art, conceptual design and the most important, the issue of perception by the viewer.
By the mid 20th Century, the bottles had disappeared and existed only in photographic collections. In the mid 1960's before his death, Duchamp authorized a limited edition of some of his conceptually ground braking readymade...the bicycle wheel, the snow shovel, the bottle drying rack, the blown glass globe full of Parisian Air and the Belle Haileine bottle. Some of these are in the collections of some museums. The original bicycle wheel and snowshovel though, are in the MOMA in New York.
The bottle auctioned by Pierre Berge though, was one of the originals, given away by Duchamp to his lover, Yvonne Crotti. 


Laci the Chinese Crested said...

Marcel Duchamp as a precursor to Andy Warhol? Discuss.

microdot said...

Conceptually, Duchamp was a natural link in the evolution of the way we think about "art" and expression and perception. He was one of the prime theorists of the DaDa movement, even though he was only linked to the movement for a short time. It wasn't as if he thought of Dada, but his work broke the windows and let the bats out of the belfrey.
But before Duchamp, we had artists like Jarry or even George Seurat. Seurat's experiments with color perception were real and physical, but the man could spin a web of pseudo scientific absurd nonsense to back up his physical work with another level of playfulness.
Are you familiar with t Pataphysics? An entire school of tongue in cheek pseudo science and philosophy...artful nonsense of the highest level. Both Jarry and Seurat were practicing Pataphysicians.
Duchamps writing and punning is a direct outgrowth of this movement. Creative Crapologist Humor of the highest level. Perhaps it exists in the Subgenius movement today... creative pseudo scientific idiocy.
The conceptual walls broken by Duchamp created the environment that allowed Warhol to create his editions of popular iconic trademarks...the entire idea of Pop Art.
But today, could you imagine someone like Damien Hirst and his editions of jewel encrusted skulls or Jeff Koons and his appropriation of popular images and investing them with a subcontext, or transforming them with out the previous existence of Duchamp.
I think in so many ways, Duchamp is so much more interesting and entertaining than any of them.