MoMA Deifies Dada's Top Dog, But Husband, Wife Steal Show
By Cayla Lewis
posted: 02-18-09
Marcel Duchamp Bottle Rack 1914
Image Source

In a review of the Museum of Modern Art's Dada exhibition, Mario Naves contends that Duchamp's readymades have wrongly "become 20th century classics", while Duchamp himself has been "set...up as a deity".  Naves believes that Duchamp himself, who once said "I threw the bottlerack and urinal into their faces as a challenge and now they admire them for their aesthetic beauty",  would have viewed this "with amused contempt".  Today  Duchamp's readymades are deified by the very institutions which they once satirized and rebelled against.  Naves contends that this has taken away their power and made them "dull and inert".  In some ways, this is true.   The power of Duchamp's readymades, especially Fountain do not simply reside in the objects themselves, but rather in the combination of the objects and their contexts.  Duchamp submitting Fountain for exhibition, its refusal, and the subsequent article which he wrote defending it in The Blind Man are as much a part of the work as the urinal itself.  A visitor who sees Fountain in a museum and knows nothing of the story behind it is missing out on context, and therefore not able to understand the full meaning of the work.  Much of the power of Duchamp's readymades comes from the fact that they were revolutionary, breaking free from the established rules of art making and proposing a whole new way in which to approach art.  By "deifying" Duchamp's work, the museum declares without question that the readymades are art, therefore removing the possibility of questioning and the ambiguity that are part of the works.         



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