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On this day in 1968 the great French painter, sculptor and conceptual artist Marcel Duchamp died. He will always be remembered for his ‘fountain’ which is in fact a urinal, what he called a ‘readymade’.
Duchamp wanted to move away from purely visual art into the idea behind it. He liked pop art: as he said in 1964, “If you take a Campbell soup can and repeat it 50 times, you are not interested in the retinal image. What interests you is the concept that wants to put 50 Campbell soup cans on a @tcanvas.”
After 1923, Duchamp’s main interest was chess which he played obsessively, seeing it as a pure form of art which he sometimes used in other art works. In 1968, he played an artistically important chess match with the composer John Cage, at a concert entitled “Reunion”. Music was produced by a series of photoelectric cells underneath the chessboard, triggered sporadically by normal game play.
The French avant-garde poet René Daumal knew Duchamp. Here is one of his poems, Poem from ‘Mount Analogue’ (translated by Carol Cosman)
One cannot stay on the summit forever –
One has to come down again.
So why bother in the first place? Just this.
What is above knows what is below –
But what is below does not know what is above.
One climbs, one sees –
One descends and sees no longer
But one has seen!
There is an art of conducting one’s self in
The lower regions by the memory of
What one saw higher up.
When one can no longer see,
One does at least still know.
Today I ask that I will be able to appreciate art with an open mind.