Sunday, February 17, 2013

100 Years after Duchamp's Nude Descended a Staircase into the Armory Show of 1913

Marcel Duchamp, Nude Descending Staircase, No. 2, 1912
Philadelphia Museum of Art

Marcel Duchamp's Nude Descending Staircase: An Homage
Francis Naumann Fine Art, 24 West 57th Street, February 15-March 29, 2013

Neither sufficiently Cubist nor Futurist, Marcel Duchamp's Nude Descending Stairs, No. 2, failed to satisfy the high priests of Cubism (Albert Gleizes and Jean Metzinger?) presiding over the Salon des Ind├ępendants of 1912. Informed that his painting should be withdrawn, Duchamp quietly took his Nude back home in a taxi and said nothing to his brothers, Jacques Villon and Raymond Duchamp-Villon, who also served on the hanging committee and exhibited in this Cubist-dominated show.

The experience was life-changing.  Duchamp no longer felt obliged to follow in his older brothers' footsteps as part of the Cubist movement.  An art-star was born.

Duchamp's large canvas (57 7/8 x 35 1/8 inches) did appear in the October 1912 Cubist exhibition La Section d'Or, where Walter Pach discovered the work and recommended it for his modernist show scheduled to open in New York the following year. There Nude Descending Staircase, No. 2 managed to launch an historic revolution in America as it took center stage in the famous Armory Show (held in the 69th Regiment Armory  located on Lexington Avenue at 25th Street), which opened to the press on February 15, 1913 - one hundred years ago this past Friday.  It opened to the public on February 17th.

A hand-painted collotype of the Nude created for a 1937 valise given to Sidney Janis takes pride of place in Francis Naumann Fine Art's exhibition Marcel Duchamp's Nude Descending Staircase: An Homage (through March 29th) as the gallery marks this significant event in art history.  Curated by Francis Naumann, renowned Duchamp scholar, the birthday celebration boasts a passel of art-stars in their own right.

Appropriation legends, such as Mike Bidlo, Sherrie Levine and Larry Rivers, contributed excellent re-interpretations along side several surprises, including Yoko Ono's nearly 6-minute video of bare tushies in Bottoms or No. 4 (1966).

Post-Modernist Kathleen Gilje captures the Duchamp spirit in her Portrait of Andrej, Male Model as Nude Descending Staircase, after Gerhard Richter (androgynous supermodel Serbian Australian Andrej Pejic), a fitting reference to the ambiguous gender of the original moving figure. However, no spoilers here. Just see the show for yourself  - or order the catalog, if you live too far away to catch this hilarious and thought-provoking homage to Monsieur Duchamp, the nude and the staircase (passim Thomas Shannon).

To hear Marcel Duchamp explain the painting in his own words, click on the podcast Culture Shock 1913, another brilliant addition to the "Fisko Files" created by WNYC's fabulous Sara Fishko. This exceptional radio program not only explains the fury unleashed by the Armory Show's introduction of raw avant-garde Modernism to New York and elsewhere, as it toured the US, but also delves into other forms of unprecedented avant-garde creations, such as Stravinsky and Nijinsky's ballet Rite of Spring (debut on May 29, 1913) and Schoenberg's atonal music.

The New York Arts Exchange will tour Marcel Duchamp's Nude Descending Staircase: An Homage, at 1 pm on Tuesday, February 19th.  Please reserve by Monday, February 18th at

Happy Presidents' Day,
Beth New York

aka Beth S. Gersh-Nesic, Ph.D.
New York Arts Exchange

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