Shooting Bullets at the Barn
by Thomas Girst
In 1942 Marcel Duchamp is said to have fired five shots at the base of artist-friend Kurt Seligmann's barn in Sugar Loaf, New York. Shortly thereafter, for the 1942 New York exhibition, First Papers of Surrealism, organized by the exiled Surrealist leader André Breton, the cover of the catalogue was perforated where Duchamp's bullets hit the nineteenth century stone wall. Other holes on the cover look similar but remain without cut-through circles.
It has been suggested that by firing the bullets, Duchamp was referring to the Nine Shots of the Bachelors in the Bride's Domain of his Large Glass, whose location, according to one of his notes (written between 1911-15) published in the Green Box (1934), was to be achieved by randomly firing matches dipped in fresh paint from a toy cannon. (1)
On close examination almost sixty years later, the exact location of the barn's detail depicted on the cover of First Papers of Surrealism can no longer be made out on the surface of the crumbling and weather-beaten wall. As for the cheese on the back of the cover, the debate still continues. It is definitely Swiss cheese (2), from Seligmann's native country, but is it a refined "gruyère" as Francis M. Naumann and Arturo Schwarz maintain or just "emmentaler," as Stephan E. Hauser (3) claims? One final incidental: According to Charles Shaughnessy, a longtime family friend and neighbor, the .22 rifle Duchamp used is considered the same one that killed Seligmann twenty years later.
On Wednesday, April 26th, 2000, Bonnie Garner, Lester Lockwood and the author drove to the Seligmann homestead, 26 Oak Drive, Sugar Loaf, New York (Telephone: 914-469-3849), to examine the barn. We'd like to thank Ms. Patricia Gilchrest, Executive Director of the Orange County Citizens Foundation, and Mr. Charles "Chuck" Shaughnessy for their hospitality. We'd also like to thank Stephan E. Hauser for establishing the contact.
1. Francis M. Naumann. The Art of Making Art in the Age of Mechanical Reproduction. (Ghent, Amsterdam: Ludion Press, 1999), pp. 151. (See also: pp. 150, 153.)
2. Martica Sawin. Surrealism in Exile and the Beginning of the New York School. (Cambridge: MIT, 1995), pp. 224-226.
3. Stephan E. Hauser. Kurt Seligmann (1900-1962): Leben und Werk. (Basel: Schwabe, 1997), pp. 221-222.