Sunday, March 18, 2012

Your Daily Duchamp

(please click on the image to view it larger)
The painting is titled Tu m'.  It is a French expression in which the verb is missing. It is a casual slang expression equivalent to "you (blank) me". You could either translate it to tu m'ennuies - you bore me, or tu m'emmerdes - a courser expression meaning the same thing, you bore me to shit.
Marcel Duchamp painted it in 1918. It was his last painting on canvas. It is quite large, more than 10 feet wide. After declaring his definitive break with traditional painting and creating his first ready mades and embarking on the process that led to the glass pieces, he accepted a commission from his friend, the Harvard art scholar, Kathleen Drier for a painting to be hung in her library.
Given the relationship he had with Drier, perhaps another possible translation of Tu' m might be - tu m'aimes - you love me...and perhaps more likely,  it is Franglais... tu and me.
Knowing the playfulness of Duchamp with language, the playfulness was always an important part of the idea of the art, it is probably all of the above. The painting is a visual inventory of Duchamps intellectual process, the path he had been following since the turn of the century. It is actually quite an attractive, compelling piece, custom made to fill a specific space in Driers library. In some ways, it is probably one of the most important conceptual pieces of art, ever created. It celebrates and destroys painting all at once. It lays the ground work for all that follows conceptually. It is as much of ideas and puns as it is of images. It is the task of the viewer to draw meaning from the elements. Tu m’ is a catalog of ideas about painting. Here is an inventory of what we see when we look at the canvas: 
A long array of color swatches, receding into the distance and zooming into the foreground. The swatches are painted, but the topmost swatch is fastened to the surface with actual metal bolt.
Spread across the canvas are three painted shadows of everyday objects, including some that were already  deigned "readymade" art.
tu m' as a three dimensional object
There is a long bottle brush, almost two feet in length protruding from the canvas at a right angle which emerges from a tromp l'oeil rip in the canvas. The rip is painted, but it has been "repaired" with actual safety pins.
Below the rip is a hand, painted by a commercial sign painter, hired by Duchamp, signed "A. Klang".
The hand points to a white rectangle rendered in perspective, a floating blank in the canvas, directly below the protruding bottle brush.
Trailing from the corners of the white rectangle are eight gently curved lines, derived from the 3 Standard Stoppages, flowing into the right side of the painting. The stoppages were part of his process of recognizing the role and the importance of "chance" in art. Perhaps, this is the real importance and the continuing artistic impact of the work of Edward Muybridge in capturing the spontaneous immediacy of reality through his photographic studies of motion.

For Duchamp, Tu m’ was a painting about the end of painting. Coming from an artist who disdained art that appealed to the eye, Tu m’ had a lot to say about the future of painting, pointing the way to abstraction, pure chromatics, and assemblage. But it was a future that Duchamp would decline to take part in. He never took up his paintbrush again.

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