Tracking Duchamp's Perfume Bottle
By Eli Epstein-Deutsch
posted: 04-05-11
Advertisement for Un Air Embaumé, Rigaud Perfume, La Rire no. 88 (9 October 1920)
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In a recent post (, this website mentioned that Marcel Duchamp's 1921 readymade Belle Haleine: Eau de Voilette, an empty glass perfume bottle branded by the French scent company Rigaud, was taken from Yves Saint Lauren's collection and sold at a Christie's auction for a bank-breaking 8.9 million Euros. What happened to it then?

While the answer is not fully clear, it certainly touched down at Berlin's Neue Nationalgalerie, an art museum designed by the late Bauhaus instructor Mies Van Der Rohe and containing the cream of German Expressionist and  Neue Sachlichkeit art, from Kirchner and Franz Marc to George Grosz and Otto Dix. Displaying the cageyness and fleetness associated with its "creator," the Rigaud perfume bottle appeared at the Nationalgalerie for a total of three days, between January 27th or 30th of this year. The only trace it left was a small news report and several eyewitness accounts, which confirm that the whole upper floor of the Van Der Rohe building was devoted to the 6 inch high bottle. Thus demonstrated is the ongoing ability of Duchamp's eccentric selections nearly 100 years ago to colonize art institutions and command valuable brick and mortar space.

So where is Belle Haleine now? Write in with sightings...


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The poetry that spoke to Nude Descending a Staircase, No.2
By Jenny Fan
posted: 04-01-11
Nude Descending a Staircase, XJ Kennedy, First Edition (1961)
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If Marcel Duchamp’s “Nude Descending a Staircase, No.2” (1912) is a song, it might be a down-tempo, acid jazz piece with sound collages assembled from turntable scratching.  NDaS No. 2 may also stutter, tap and hiccup in a systematic, almost cerebral rhythm to suit the movement of the soundtrack.  If it spoke poetry though, it might as well be XJ Kennedy’s interpretation of it in 1961.  In celebration of the National Poetry Month, we revisit Kennedy (b. 1929)’s Nude Descending a Staircase, the poem inspired by Duchamp’s infamous painting of the same name. 

Poetry and art are both fleeting love affairs and life-long spouses.  For one, each depends on the other intermittently out of intrigue and loneliness, but they never divorce each other—only complement.  Roman poet Horace (c. 13 BC) once decreed, “ut picture poesis,” or “as is painting, so is poetry.”  Even in our functional vocabulary in art criticisim, we deploy phrases such as the “art of the poetry,” or the “poetry in that art work” to make sense of the art work.  Other poets who “spoke” art include W.H. Auden to Pieter Brueghel’s The Fall of Icarus, and Nancy Sullivan to Number 1 by Jackson Pollock.  In each of these poems, the poet's intent seemed never to be strict interpretation or adherence to the integrity of the painting, but to introduce fresh perspectives and frame of mind to engage the viewer in another dynamic.

Nude Descending A Staircase (1961) was XJ Kennedy’s first collection of published poetry that also won the eighth annual Lamont Award of the Academy of American Poets that same year.  He will read at the WD Snodgrass Symposium (4/27/2011), an event held in honor of the late University of Delaware faculty member and Pulitzer Prize winner for Poetry in 1960. 

Nude Descending a Staircase
Toe upon toe, a snowing flesh,
A gold of lemon, root and rind,
She sifts in sunlight down the stairs
With nothing on. Nor on her mind.
We spy beneath the banister
A constant thresh of thigh on thigh—
Her lips imprint the swinging air
That parts to let her parts go by.
One woman waterfall, she wears
Her slow descent like a long cape
And pausing, on the final stair,
Collects her motions into shape.
X.J. Kennedy
The Poet Speaks of Art, English 205, a project designed for “Introduction to Poetry” at the English department at Emory university.

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World readying for John Cage's 100th birthday.
By Eli Epstein-Deutsch
posted: 03-31-11
Duchamp Vs. Cage: wired chess
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John Cage and Marcel Duchamp are often mentioned in the same breath. Not only were they good friends and avid chess partners (Cage once had Duchamp's board electrically wired for a game of musical chess), Cage was an avowed creative disciple of the elder statesman of the avant-garde.

Cage carried on Duchamp's predilection for strict Conceptualism and discipline-bending provocation deeper into the world of audio ( Duchamp had indeed already made use of sound media) ; Cage's other ancestral influences include the mechanized noisemakers of the Futurists. Cage is now notorious, perhaps as much so as Duchamp, for controversial works like the fully silent 4'33, and HPSCHD,a complex, chaotic, chance-based and partly computer-generated work.

Cage would have been alive for 100 years on September 5th, 2012. In celebration of this centennial "music, poetry, theater, happenings, visual art exhibitions, publications, and more" are being prepared, according to In the meantime, get your dose of the modernist composer by checking out other engaging projects at his eponymous web address, including a app that displays excerpts of his whimsical 1-minute short stories from "Indeterminacy: new aspect of form in instrumental and electronic music."

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Rigaud: a Scent in Need of an Author
By Maria Goldverg
posted: 03-29-11
Belle Haleine: Eau de Voilette (Beautiful Breath: Veil Water)
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For those that have been following the attention 'scents' have been receiving in the art world, as we have, Christie's auctioned out the most expensive bottle of perfume ever sold, and it never even held perfume. This is is not surprising, for it was designed by Marcel Duchamp and Man Ray in 1921.

Many designers of perfumery cite "self-expression," the olfactory trace of a scent left behind, as a primary interest and stake. A trace is not unlike a signature, it identifies an owner or author. Duchamp's ready-mades scandalized the art world for being the first to make a point of questioning authorship in the fetish art object, even the signature of fetishized scent. Duchamp's record-breaking perfume bottle, called Belle Haleine: Eau de Voilette (Beautiful Breath: Veil Water), initially housed the much loved fragrance Rigaud. It was first displayed in its altered form, as an "assisted ready-made.", at the Cordier & Ekstrom Gallery in 1965.

Beautiful Breath features the likeness of Duchamp's female alter ego, Rrose Selavy. It sold in Feb. 2009 for $11,689,968.


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Ubuweb's "Uncreative" Poet Speaks About Textual Readymades
By Eli Epstein-Deutsch
posted: 03-27-11
Kenneth Goldsmith at the Whitney, pontificating notoriously over Conceptual vs. Flarf poetry reading
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Cabinet Magazine's Gowanus HQ regularly hosts illuminating panels, exhibitions, and lectures on avant-garde practice, conceptual art, and the history of science and culture. Stiff drinks are served in conjunction.

March 18th's event was no exception. That typically well-devised evening, titled “Clipping, Copying, and Thinking,” brought together Harvard historian Ann Blair and renegade, Duchampian poet Kenneth Goldsmith, whose site has been dubbed "The Wikileaks of the Avant Garde": at least according to Goldsmith's own Twitter feed. The two were there to discourse on strategies of textual appropriation and management in an age of proliferating information (this could refer to the present or Early Modernity, Blair's specialty, a time of publishing expansion). The dialogue was hosted by Cabinet editor D. Graham Burnett, a youngish, pale, elegantly cheekboned Princeton professor sporting a vanishingly narrow tie.

Blair, who has written extensively on the subject, kicked off the proceedings with a recounting of notetaking culture from Classical Antiquity to the late Renaissance. The central theme linking these periods was a concern with personal, mental and rhetorical cultivation. Figures such as Quintillian would stockpile and index citations as an arsenal of examples and anecdotes to aid decision-making and oratory. The Renaissance, faced with the trauma of the loss of Antiquity's riches, added preservation and curation as motivating factors for compulsive note-taking, arranging, and intelligent hoarding.


All these activities, Goldsmith pointed out when he spoke, were about "selecting the best bits." He was interested in something different. What exactly? Goldsmith is known for such provocations as retyping one complete issue of the New York Times from end to end (Day, 2003) and publishing it as a book of poetry, and transcribing one year's worth of Weather reports (Weather, 2005). He seems interested in highlighting the banal, what is merely there for the taking: in other words, not "the best bits." He has announced the goal of purging himself of creativity by age 40. While Duchamp may have provided "permission" for this practice, as Goldsmith put it, Duchamp himself was focused on a quite selective aestheticism. The Renaissance scholars, for their part, sought to develop and enhance their subjective spheres through systematic assimilation of external material. Goldsmith, on the other hand, appears to want to efface his subjectivity to the point where he is fashioned as a glorified transcriptionist.

But of course, there is a paradox. Goldsmith, like Duchamp, expects to receive credit for his rote, plagiaristic works, and indeed he has been the recipient of multiple awards and professorships. In the workshop Goldsmith teaches at the University of Pennsylvania, he assigns his students the task of typing up 5 pages of their choice and turn it in to him, an activity that would lead to disciplinary action anywhere else in the University. According to Goldsmith, the results of this exercise are "very personal." Choices the student makes such as what writing they choose, how faithful they render typography, layout, paper quality, etc. reveals layers of quirk and distinctive individuality. Goldsmith points this out with evident relish.

So then, is the point subjectivity after all? The eminent moderator Burnett sniffed out this possibility, and inquired if Goldsmith were not really a crypto- or latent humanist. Goldsmith freely admitted that he was somewhere in between. He said that among his students there were more severe radicals, who advocate the utter expunging of all traces of subjective decision making, thus transcending the Duchampian legacy and that of Renaissance humanism to boot. They have called for the complete transcription of the Internet, an idea which makes Goldsmith shudder. "I'm actually kind of old-fashioned," he says. Further into the frontier of post-human poetic practice lies such beasts as "dark data" or symbolic writing produced by computers for computers to read.

There is clearly much to be explored further about conceptual/digital/readymade textual practices, and I'll continue to post on the issue. Hopefully, we'll also be able to get Professor Goldsmith over to, there are some things we need to discuss with him. We will transcribe the results of the conversation here.

Uncreative Writing: Managing Language in the Digital Age, Goldsmith's newanthology, comes out via Columbia University Press in September, 2011.

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