Duchamp Owns Everything
By Eli Epstein-Deutsch
posted: 04-29-11
But who owns Duchamp?
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Several nights ago, I ate dinner at the apartment of a couple who had pasted a copy of the famous "Art History Poster," up in their bathroom (so there was plenty of time to study it while digesting potato strudel and too much wine). It's the print with a long laundry-list of artists defined on the basis of what they "own": Flavin Owns Neon, Hirst Owns the Pharmacy, Judd Owns Shelves, Picasso Owns the Century, Gilbert owns George, Calder owns Mobiles, etc. Then, at some point it reads: "Duchamp Owns Everything." I'd seen this before, but this time it struck me as pretty funny: the real punch line of the whole poster. Duchamp Owns Everything: perhaps He does.

For some reason, I was reminded of this line at a concert by the Books I attended the night after. The Books could fairly be considered the Marcel Duchamp of indie-pop; one song from their new album for instance, "Free Translator," was created by taking the lyrics of a folk song, and translating them through the world's major languages, then back  to English, using translation software. They then set the results to music: a very Duchampian exercise in writing a song without writing a song. Furthermore, their irreverent, genre-bending tracks are notorious for incorporating found audio/video clips and strange verbiage: at the beginnin of their song "Take Time," from the album The Lemon of Pink, an Italian man is recorded saying "Non e niente naturale in la natura, regazzo mio."

"There is nothing natural in nature, my boy." Nothing is natural in nature. This could be another way of saying "Tout-Fait": everything is made (another meaning of the french phrase for ready-made.) It is in the nature of human civilization to construct everything: even (especially) Nature. Nothing is natural. Everything is made.

Duchamp was the first to decide that everything 'made' was art (America's plumbing and bridges are its finest works, he asserted); thus he ensured that it would be his art. Everything is made, therefore everything is art; Duchamp Owns Everything. Q.E.D.

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