Report: Duchampmania Hits the Southland

"Duchamp to Pop" installation view at the Norton Simon Museum, Pasadena.

“Duchamp to Pop” installation view at the Norton Simon Museum, Pasadena.

52-and-a-half years since Duchamp’s California debut, and first major museum retrospective, a Duchampian revival is taking place in LA. But don’t worry, there’s also a nice round number to celebrate. “It was 100 years ago,” explains Tom Norris, associate curator of the Norton Simon Museum, “in 1916, that Duchamp wrote to his sister and defined the readymade.” The object in question was an unassuming bottle rack, and in the artist’s words to his sister, “I purchased this as a sculpture already made.” And, as Norris continues, that “paved the way for Pop Art.” This connection is explored at the current exhibition running through August 29 at the Norton Simon, culled from two seminal exhibitions from the museum’s past life as the Pasadena Art Museum, “New Paintings of Common Objects,” (1962) and the “Marcel Duchamp Retrospective” of 1963.

Meanwhile, images from Duchamp’s landmark exhibit were on view across town in Bergamot Station at the Robert Berman Gallery. “Julian Wasser: Duchamp in Pasadena Redux,” transported the viewer via vintage silver gelatin prints to that now-legendary opening night: via the wizened visage of Duchamp smoking Cigar next to Bicycle Wheel or the playful Andy Warhol, Irving Blum, Billy Al Bengston and Dennis Hopper, at the Opening Reception, Duchamp Retrospective, Pasadena Art Museum, or the scandalous Duchamp Playing Chess with a Nude (Eve Babitz). Amidst Wasser’s photographs were a series of re-readymades and inspirations thereof made by LA-based Gregg Gibbs, and other artists.

Numerous works on view at the Norton Simon were made by the artists that populate Wasser’s photographs. Standing among a collection of 20th-century landmarks, chief curator Carol Togneri offered a personal note: “Anticipating this exhibition led me to go back and look at Duchamp’s correspondence and read about Duchamp’s life.” That in turn, Togneri explained, opened up an even greater appreciation for the “multiple intellectual layers” of the philosopher/artist.

Offering Duchampophiles an opportunity to likewise dig a little deeper is an extensive gathering of printed works, photographs, publications, and other ephemera called “A Marcel Duchamp Collection” on view at LA Louver through May 14. The archival journey begins with the 1917 collaborative publication “The Blind Man,” traverses through his notes on the enigmatic The Large Glass, and even pauses for a copy of a rare assemblage/artist book Duchamp made in the early 1920s titled “Some French Moderns Says McBride.” At the end of the trip, we join the artist looking back with the 1966 Boîte-en-valise—miniature reproductions of his early important works.

But Duchamp’s presence in Los Angeles can hardly be limited to these exhibitions. A show at Honor Fraser featured the works of Richard Pettibon, who riffs off the renowned Frenchman (alongside Frank Stella) in a series of small paintings and a recreated Bicycle Wheel. In addition to Pop, readily addressed in the Norton Simon show, Duchamp’s influence permeates the contemporary use of appropriation, the object, and many other interrogative artistic processes that are now commonplace. In Norris’s words: “more than presenting us with objects, Duchamp was presenting us with a way of thinking and a way of questioning. Duchamp made art about the questions we have about art.”


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