Marcel Duchamp Slept Hereby Francis M. Naumann
During the winter of 2008 – 2009, the city of Buenos Aires hosted the first exhibition devoted to Marcel Duchamp held in Argentina, meant, essentially, to commemorate the artist’s nine-month sojourn there in 1918 – 19. In 2010, the quiet Swiss hamlet of Cully, Switzerland, located on the north shore of Lake Geneva, hosted a symposium of Duchamp scholars to celebrate Duchamp’s brief visit there and the inspiration he derived from a nearby waterfall that he incorporated into his last great work, the “Etant donnés.” In the year 2013, the seaside resort community of Herne Bay in Kent, England, is planning a three-week celebration to mark the centennial of Duchamp’s stay there, where, during the summer of 1913, he served as a chaperone for his sister Yvonne who was studying English. And during the summer of 2012, the city of Munich, Germany, celebrated Duchamp’s memorable visit to that city exactly 100 years earlier—with a discrete, elegant, and tasteful exhibition mounted at the Lenbachhaus, located just a few blocks from where Duchamp rented a room during his three-month visit to the Bavarian capital during the summer of 1913. (Fig 1.)1
Duchamp later described his time in Munich as “the scene of my complete liberation.”2 Indeed, with his physical removal from Paris, Duchamp felt sufficiently detached from the influence of his Cubist colleagues (particularly that of his two brothers, the painter Jacques Villon and the sculptor Raymond Duchamp-Villon), to completely reinvent himself. It was here, in Munich, that he drafted his first ideas for a work that would look like no other that preceded it in the entire history of art—“The Bride Stripped Bare by Her Bachelors, Even” (Fig. 2)—an elaborate construction on two panels of plate glass (one mounted above the other) that stands today in a gallery devoted to Duchamp at the Philadelphia Museum of Art. As the title suggests, it involves the pursuit of a Bride (the upper section) by nine Bachelors (lower portion), an idea that seems to have come to Duchamp during his brief stay in Munich. It was there that he made his first sketch for the subject, then titled only “The Bride Stripped Bare by the Bachelors” (Fig. 3) (the word Even added later), an ink drawing on exceptionally heavy cardstock that represents a translucent mechanical Bride in the center of the composition flanked by two similarly rendered Bachelors who are apparently, as the title tells us, disrobing her. Below the image of the Bride, Duchamp wrote: Mécanisme de la pudeur / Pudeur mécanique (Mechanism of Modesty / Mechanical Modesty), which implies that her modesty compels her to reject their advances.
Until now, Duchamp scholars have suggested that the source for this image can be traced to the literature of alchemy, specifically to the image of a woman whose clothing is removed by two men that was reproduced in an obscure 18th century alchemical text.3 No one has been able to prove that Duchamp ever saw this publication and he later denied that he knew anything about alchemy, so the authors of the Munich catalogue have come up with several compelling alternatives. Herbert Molderings, the most distinguished German Duchamp scholar, proposes that the subject may have been inspired by a sketch made by the 19th century German painter Hans von Marées (1837 – 1887), where a woman dressed in a diaphanous antique gown is surrounded by two naked men (Fig. 4). An even more convincing source was suggested by Thomas Girst, another contributor to the Munich catalogue, who cited a mural by the German painter Adolf Münzer (1870-1953), “The Rivals,” 1912, which, within the format of a lunette, shows a naked woman surrounded by two fully clothed men who curiously poke at her with knives and rapiers (Fig. 5) (similar to the protruding linear elements each Bachelor seems to wield in the Duchamp sketch). The mural (now lost) was displayed in a Bavarian Trade Fair that was held in Munich during the same time as Duchamp’s stay, but even if he did not attend the fair (there is no evidence that he did), he would have had ample opportunity to see a reproduction of the image that was spread across two pages in Die Jugend, a popular weekly newspaper on art and life (the issue that reproduced this image appeared during the same month when Duchamp made his sketch).
The Munich exhibition consisted of only 14 works, including everything that Duchamp made during his sojourn there: four drawings, “The Bride Stripped Bare by the Bachelors” (referred to above), two drawings for “The Virgin” (Philadelphia Museum), a sketch called “Aeroplane” (Menil Collection, Munich) and, most notably, two important paintings: “Bride” (Philadelphia Museum of Art, Louise and Walter Arensberg Collection) and “The Passage from Virgin to Bride” (Museum of Modern Art, New York). To set the stage, the show began with his famous “Nude Descending a Staircase” (Philadelphia Museum of Art, Louise and Walter Arensberg Collection), and ends with the “Large Glass,” not the original construction of 1915 – 23 (Philadelphia Museum of Art), but a reconstruction made in 1965 by the late English artist Richard Hamilton borrowed from the Tate Gallery in London (Fig. 2). Just a few months before Duchamp left for Munich, the “Nude” had been refused for exhibition at the Salon des Indépendants in Paris. An impromptu committee of the Salon—which included the notable Cubist painters Albert Gleizes and Jean Metzinger (authors of the first book on Cubism, and self-anointed spokesmen for the movement) as well as his two brothers—requested that Duchamp remove the picture, since the implied movement of the nude could be too easily confused with Futurism (a rival art movement of Italian origin that they did not want confused with Cubism). Rather than conform to their request, Duchamp withdrew the picture, an event that was, as he later confessed, a critical turning point in his life. From that point onward, rather than conform to the interests and desires of his colleagues, he refused to be part of any organized group and rigorously pursued an entirely new and independent means of artistic expression, one that culminated with the Large Glass.
A short walk from the Lenbachhaus is Munich’s famed Alte Pinakothek, best known for its magnificent collection of Old Master paintings, particularly Albrecht Altdorfer’s “Battle of Issus,” 1529, and many large-scale compositions by Peter Paul Rubens. During his stay in Munich, Duchamp recalled that he visited this museum on a daily basis. Duchamp scholars have long recognized that the paintings Duchamp made in Munich were influenced by the works of the 16th century German painter Lucas Cranach the Elder that he had seen in this collection, particularly in regard to the attenuation of his figures and the subdued ochre and brown color range he employed. The American Duchamp scholar Michael Taylor (now director of the Hood Museum at Dartmouth College), who also contributed to the Munich catalogue, reminds us that Duchamp told Richard Hamilton that he painted these pictures in Munich with his fingertips, a characteristic Taylor informs us that he surprisingly also shared with Cranach, who is known to have used his fingers and the palms of his hands to spread his colors evenly.
Viewers who visited the Alte Pinakothek during the time of the Duchamp exhibition would have been able to look through massive windows that line twin staircases leading up to the second floor where the collection is housed and seen on the south lawn of the museum a large geometric form in concrete that resembles a minimal sculpture (Fig. 6). It is a work created by the German artist Rudolf Herz, who attained some level of notoriety in New York in 2002 when his installation “Zugzwang,” 1995—which juxtaposed portrait photographs of Duchamp and Hitler (both taken by the same photographer)—was shown in an exhibition at the Jewish Museum.4 The new sculpture also involves Duchamp, but, from a cultural point of view, it is less controversial, although it still found detractors from among the Munich populace who assumed city funds had been used for its construction (when, in actuality, it was paid for privately).5 Called “Le mystère de Munich,” the sculpture is based on the floor plan of the apartment that Duchamp rented at 65 Barerstrasse (Fig 1). The building in which the apartment was located was destroyed by Allied bombing in World War II, but from city records, Herz found the original floor plan of the apartment, and used them as the basis for his sculpture. The plan is turned 90 degrees, affording us a view of the interior and reflecting, perhaps, Duchamp’s notion of creating “a hinged picture” (mentioned in his notes for the “Large Glass”). In the final sculpture, Duchamp’s room is located at the upper left, a single rectangular space that he could only have accessed by walking through the rest of the apartment, which was occupied by a couple, August Gress, a mechanical engineer who was close to Duchamp in age, and his wife, who was employed as a seamstress in Munich (professions that would, in various ways, find their way into Duchamp’s work of this period).
It is perhaps appropriate that we are provided with this vision of where Duchamp slept during his stay in Munich, for the exhibition at the Lenbachhaus was meant to commemorate the approximate 100 days he spent living and working in that city exactly 100 years ago. Just as Americans habitually mount placards where they believe George Washington slept, it would seem only fitting to do something similar for an artist who, like our first president, led us from restrictions imposed on us by the vestiges of our past, to a quest for freedom that, to this day, progressive artists dedicate themselves to attain. In a fitting and literally concrete form, the Duchamp exhibition and the Lenbachhaus and Herz’s monumental sculpture, respectively, mark the scene of Duchamp’s “complete liberation.”
Exhibition and Catalogue: Marcel Duchamp in Munich 1912, with essays by Herbert Molderings, Kornelia von Berswordt-Walrabe, Michael R. Taylor, Steffen Bogen and Thomas Girst, with entries by these authors and Ecke Bonk, Paul B. Franklin, Matthias Mühling, Antonia Napp, Helena Perena, Felicia Rappe, and Kornelia Röder (Lenbachhaus, Munich, March 31 – July 15, 2012). Catalogue with German and English texts.
1 The Lenbachhaus is best known for its collection of works by German Secessionists, as well as for its comprehensive collection of work by Blaue Reiter artists, particularly Kandinsky. The building is temporary closed for renovations, so the Duchamp show was held across the street in an underground gallery space. The Buenos Aires exhibition—which also traveled to São Paulo, Brazil—was accompanied by catalogues in Spanish and Portuguese (see Marcel Duchamp: Una obra que no es una obra “de arte,” Fundación Proa, Buenois Aires, November 2008 – February 2009, and Museu de Arte Moderna de São Paulo, July-September 2008); the Cully symposium was published by Stefan Banz, ed., Marcel Duchamp and the Forestay Waterfall (Zurich: JRP Ringier, 2010); the Herne Bay celebrations were announced online, see: http://bayguide.co.uk/wp/index.php/herne-bay-inspired-marcel-duchamps-the-large-glass/, and the Munich catalogue was published with simultaneous English and German texts edited by Helmut Friedel, Thomas Girst, Matthais Mühling, Felicia Rappe, eds., Marcel Duchamp in Munich, Städtische Galerie im Lenbachhaus und Kunstbau, Munich, March 31 – July 15, 2012.
2 “A Propos of Myself,” lecture delivered at the City Art Museum of St. Louis, November 24, 1964; quoted in Anne d’Harnoncourt and Kynaston McShine, eds., Marcel Duchamp (Philadelphia Museum of Art / Museum of Modern Art, New York, 1973), p. 263.
3 This source was first suggested by Maurizio Calvesi, Duchamp invisibile: La costruzione del simbolo (Rome: Officina Edizioni, 1975), extended caption to fig. 58 , repeated by Ulf Linde, “Eroterisme Ésotérique,” in Jean Clair, ed., Marcel Duchamp, vol. III: abécédaire (Paris: Centre Georges Pompidou, 1977), pp. 60-61.
4 Mirroring Evil: Nazi Imagery / Recent Art, catalogue edited by Norman L. Kleeblatt, the Jewish Museum, New York, March 17 – June 30, 2002.
5 Information garnered from a pamphlet published on June 21, 2012, to mark the occasion of the sculpture’s unveiling, Horst Moser, “The Birthplace of Conceptual Art: A Temporary Memorial,” Duchamp Journal: Le Mystère de Munich (the pamphlet announces the publication of a major book on the sculpture by Herz that will be published by Moser Verlag, Munich, later in 2012). The person who sponsored the construction of Herz’s sculpture is the architect Peter Ottmann.
More Articles by the AuthorFrancis M. Naumann
FRANCIS M. NAUMANN is a gallery owner and Duchamp scholar. His most recent book, The Recurrent, Haunting Ghost: Essays on the Art, Life and Legacy of Marcel Duchamp (New York: Readymade Press), was published in September 2012.