Reactor

The Many Lives of Duchamp’s Large Glass

by Hrag Vartanian on February 13, 2014

"Large but dissimilar glasses" (GIF by the author for Hyperallergic)

“Large but dissimilar glasses” (GIF by the author for Hyperallergic)

Kendell Geers’s “Stripped Bare” (2009), a very contemporary take on a classic of modern art, was shot across the internet as the publicity image for his upcoming lecture at Philadelphia’s Institute for Contemporary Art. It’s a reference to Marcel Duchamp’s masterpiece “The Bride Stripped Bare by Her Bachelors, Even (The Large Glass)” (1915–23), which is housed across town at another Philly institution, the Philadelphia Museum of Art.

The original work upends the notion of the preciousness of originality, an idea that Duchamp wasn’t particularly interested in, since the artist intended his work to be accompanied by a book, in order, he said, to prevent purely visual responses to it.

In 1934, Duchamp published his notes on what he called his “hilarious picture” and explained it was intended to diagram the erratic progress of a “Bride” on the top half and her nine “Bachelors” below.

The work was only exhibited once (in 1926 at the Brooklyn Museum) before it was accidentally broken and then partially repaired by the artist, but it went on to become a staple of 20th-century art and culture textbooks. It has also become the object of a number of “authorized” reproductions, including:

  • Richard Hamilton’s 1960s take at the Tate in London
  • another 1960s version made by art critic Ulf Linde and the artist Per Olof Ultvedt (with Duchamp’s consent, after Philadelphia wouldn’t loan the original) at Stockholm’s Moderna Museet
  • a 1990s version made by John Stenborg and Henrik Samuelsson (authorized by Madame Alexina Duchamp), also at the Moderna Museet
  • smaller versions intended for serial production by the publishing company Bok-Konsum (which proved to difficult and expensive to produce)

Hamilton’s, like the Swedish versions, is not an exact copy but an interpretation. Geer’s take strips away the imagery in favor of the violence of shotgun blasts against bullet-proof glass. The action evokes both a frustration with art history — particularly the institutionalization of the avant-garde — and an uneasy celebration of the aesthetics of violence. Geer fixates on a perceived act of destruction as creation, suggesting that great art never dies but is reincarnated.

Image sources for the GIF: flickr.com/photogaby, Tate, Moderna Museet, ICP

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