Review: The Bride and the Bachelors – Barbican Art Gallery

The Wedding Cake

Looking at the thing from a superficial – but not entirely erroneous – point of view, these new Pop-people have chosen Marcel Duchamp as their patron saint and placed him in an honored niche. But Marcel Duchamp escaped from this niche very quickly. In a letter dated 10th November 1962, he writes to me: “This Neo-Dada, which they call New Realism, Pop Art, Assemblage etc., is an easy way out, and lives on what Dada did. When I discovered ready-mades I thought to discourage aesthetics. In Neo-Dada they have taken my ready-mades and found aesthetic beauty in them. I threw the bottle-rack and the urinal into their faces as a challenge and now they admire them for their aesthetic beauty.” [page 207, 1965 edition; Dada Art and Anti-Art by Hans Richter; Published by Thames and Hudson.]

This seems to have been swept under the carpet by many curators, artists and the bourgeoisie. Still the point by Duchamp is ignored. They were against the notion of establishment, they were against the raising of art to a level of glorification and aesthetics, they were against art, philosophy and those who sought to impose their ideology on the populace. Like things that have any real relevance to people they become absorbed and manipulated by the bourgeoisie who are in control of galleries, museums and institutions world wide.

The show at the Barbican is conceived by the French Artist and Film-maker Philippe Parreno. Although I would say it is worth a visit one must keep in mind the true nature, context of Dada and its relationship to art and artists after Dada. To read between the lines of much of what is written and presented. One may believe Philippe wishes to take ownership of the work both textual, performance and visual to create new meaning but this show is part of several events running from Feb-June 2013 with the working title of ‘Dancing around Duchamp Season’ at the Barbican.

I wonder if the visitors are aware of Duchamp’s thoughts important as they are in his response to Hans Richter a founding member of Dada. It is often said that Duchamp never did interviews but they do not say that there are documents of his thoughts. It all depends on what is made available.

There is so much material to read and see that one needs to go a few times to take in what is being described. This does place the exhibition on difficult grounding by trying to contextualize and lead people one places the art in a different light. No mention has been raised by what Duchamp wrote to Hans Richter back in 1962. Dada had stopped by1924 and its artists had moved on long after the development of Pop art etc. Duchamp was acting as artist no-longer affiliated to a movement that had gone.

“Serving as the orchestrator of the exhibition’s mise en scene, Parreno has activated time and motion to create a vital way of experiencing the work of the five featured artists. Invoking the notion of the ghost, existing between presence and absence, Parreno’s interventions reflect upon the monumental impact of Duchamp, Cage, Cunningham, Rauschenberg, and Johns as set against the material fragility of the works they created and the ephemeral nature of their collaborations.” [From the Barbican gallery guide 14th February – 9th June 2013.]

Putting this aside there are many interesting works to view, to hear or read. The emphasis leans to the development of performance and music post Dada with Duchamp. There are many annotations of music composed based on the ideas of chance compositions by John Cage who adopted Far Eastern concepts of Chance and I Ching to simulate and understand what sound was. There are a series of pictures titled ’3 Standard Stoppages’ referencing musical composition made by John Cage using different length strings coated with ink simply dropped being allowed to fall to leave there print on the paper (1980). They are shown alongside prints by Rauchenburg’s, ‘Veils’ (1974) created by dropping handkerchiefs randomly onto light sensitive plates which I particularly liked.

The decision to use these objects is not of chance but a conscious decision, the fallen object landing the way they do cannot be controlled but are effected by the environment they are created. They are aesthetically beautiful to look at with some form of rhythm they remind me of small insect trails one might see. Cage explored musical composition extensively in which he collaborated with Merse Cunningham, John Tudor and Rauchenburg.

“In 1952 John Tudor premiered Cage’s 4’33”, ostensibly a piano sonata in three movements, in which the pianist, having sat down at the concert piano, lifted his hands as if to begin, then twice more lifted his hands during the duration of four minutes and thirty three seconds, as if beginning subsequent movements – but never a note he played. This was not a joke or insult, though many of the audience took it as such: after the first embarrassed shuffling of feet, the audience, if they were prepared to, could detect far-off bird songs or cars traveling or wood creaking – silence was surprisingly noisy. Cage was asking people to listen to the sounds that were all around them, at all times. Nothing could be everything, if only one’s attitude was right. ‘Let sounds be themselves,’ he said – all noises were potential music.” [page 61, 1998; Conceptual Art by Tony Godfrey, Art & Ideas Series; Published by Phaidon Press Ltd.]

The noise of life and pattern all connect to each other; that nothing can be different and interesting offers a very philosophical look of oneself and changes the very nature of how we perceive ourselves. That everyday objects we use are functional in purpose can be seen as iconic or aesthetically pleasing are very far from ideas of Dada.

Jasper Johns played on the icon extensively. The ‘figure 8′ Encaustic on canvas, references what is known and used formerly, funnily enough when turned on its side it is also the sign of infinity. A few of his sculptures are also shown alongside objects created by Duchamp raised on plinths for viewing. The two ale cans painted bronze came from a story Jasper heard about Willem de Kooning being annoyed with his dealer saying he could sell two beer cans if you gave them to him. The one that I found interesting because of the various connections of time, humanity was ‘Memory Piece (Frank O’Hara)’ is a foot print cast from the poet Frank O’Hara placed within the lid of a jewelery box when closed creates a foot print in sand that has been placed within the box.

‘Why Not Sneeze Rose Sélavy?’, which is not really understood, was made on request by Kathrine Dreier for her sister and there has been much in the way of literature speculating what is meant; it may just be a personal remark between him and the Dreier sisters. Personally I don’t think it really matters in some ways one can draw off all sorts of conclusions but does it necessarily have to have meaning. Does life have any? ‘Apolinère Enameled’ 1916-17 references Duchamp’s friend a poet and critic Apolinère. Using a found advertising image there is a four post-bed frame without its centre and a girl painting it white with two rails red and another two yellow. The reflection of her head in a mirror on the desk of a chest of draws drawn in by Duchamp in pencil. Playing on the sexual innuendo of a girl brushing the bedpost.

If you have some time I would try and visit this show. There is a lot to take in if you do not know much about the artists work in the show but you may be able take away things that make you think a little differently. It is running until the 9th June 2013 and there are various events around this period in relation to Duchamp at the Barbican.

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