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Tuesday, 22 August 2017

Spotlight: Marcel Duchamp (part 1 of 2)

This Summery August’s Spotlight shines on another bright arts star, Marcel Duchamp.

Duchamp with a star shaved into the back of his head, and an inverse mohawk
- an unusually progressive hair style for 1919

As LAS’ Tom Crowe shows in the LAS Summer Exhibition, Duchamp’s urinal was first exhibited 100 years ago. That was at the cutting-edge Armory Show in Paris, known for breaking the mold. Duchamp’s entry to the show, “Fountain” a urinal on its back with “R. MUTT” painted on as a sort of signature, was so odd that it was not recognised as being an art piece.
To see “Fountain” commemorated in style, go to the LAS Summer Exhibition, on 23-31Aug17 at St Laurence’s Church, Ludlow (link:
Duchamp probably made more stunningly advanced contributions than anyone to what we now know as “art”. He conceived the “ready-made”, slashes in canvas as being part of a painting (questioning the fabric of art – see the stunningly advanced piece, “Tu’m” below, which merits an entire book of narrative and description on its own).
"Tu m'", Marcel Duchamp, 1918

Duchamp was also a highly explorative pioneer of the deliberate introduction of randomness in place of the conscious decision of the artist (a concept which had been explored very deliberately and thoroughly by Zurich Dada artists that Duchamp encountered), such as through dust gathering on an artwork over a period of many years, and fixed with varnish to become part of the image:

Duchamp's "La mariée mise à nu par ses célibataires, même (Le Grand Verre)" (1915-23). 
Translation: "The Bride Stripped Bare by Her Bachelors, Even", most often called "The Large Glass”.

This work took several years, seen here in the phase of gathering dust in an attic, and the finished work in which most of that incidental dust has been removed, while some has been retained within the figures in the image.

Interlude: a Treasure hunt… Do you know someone who is soon to start a Masters degree on First World War art, including a substantial focus on the Dada movement? If you do, the knowledge is your prize (to keep to yourself).
Duchamp’s ‘Nude descending a staircase’ (1912) (above) was less obviously ground-breaking, since some other artists were exploring the same staccato image concept at that time, notably the Futurists and early Cubists, as in this piece by Balla, below:

"Speeding Automobile" by Giacomo Balla (1912)

In Balla’s title (“Speeding Automobile”) we are shown the incidence that the mechanical power and speed of the industrial age had upon the arts. Machines seemed to have the potential to exceed human capabilities. Paintings around that time, born of industrialisation, typically show multiple, almost superimposed images, depicting motion. After all, it was only with mechanisation, and new levels and scales of “horsepower”, that people encountered speeds faster than the capabilities of the human eye. Machines made “horsepower” become legion. Never before had people seen a wheel spin so fast they could not tell which direction it was turning. The very concept was startling. 
Perhaps with Duchamp this is most clearly explained: in 1961 he wrote "Apropos of 'Readymades'", explaining that “in 1913 I had the happy idea to fasten a bicycle wheel to a kitchen stool and watch it turn….”
"Bicycle Wheel", Duchamp (1913)

This seems to offer the above explanation for the rather mechanical visuals of Duchamp's ‘Nude descending a staircase’ (above) and its ilk: that there are technologies beyond the capabilities of humans. Duchamp placing a wheel on a stool and watching it spin shows his perspective on speed and industry. He was not afraid. His placement of the bicycle wheel on the stool feels like he was not just marvelling at the wheel’s spinning, but also quite confident in the possibility of taming it. The symbolism of that piece is rarely spotted. This could be a useful contemporary lesson: technology is not bigger than us. If we tame it.
Eventually Duchamp gave up art and dedicated himself to the game of chess.  

Duchamp, 1958
By approximate parallel, Bill Drummond and Jimmy Cauty gave up music 23 years ago on the 23rd of August. They were the music band “KLF” and “The Justified Ancients of Mu Mu”, and the “The Timelords”, and were similarly experimental and unusual.
Among their contributions to the art world was an alternative Turner Prize in 1993, offered to “the worst” of the Turner prize finalists. Their prize offer was £40,000 pounds – double the actual Turner prize’s £20,000 for the winner. Drummond and Cauty, operating then under the name “The K Foundation”, announced their winner before the winner of the Turner prize was announced. Both competitions picked Rachel Whiteread.

"House", Rachel Whiteread (1993)

Whiteread reluctantly accepted the K Foundation prize on the basis that Cauty and Drummond announced that the £40,000 would be burnt if not accepted. Whiteread gave the prize money to charity. It was shortly after this that Drummond and Cauty burnt one million pounds on the isle of Jura.
On the 23rd of August 2017 they reconvene to discuss and seek advice and thoughts about the million pounds, and some of their other activities. They are starting strong: the day before it starts an ice cream van plunges down a ravine on the M62 (link:, with no trace of driver. They used to drive an ice cream van, and Drummond has a love of the M62. Their declaration of silence 23 years ago was sealed by painting that declaration on a car and pushing it over a cliff.

Duchamp created the “ready-made” whereby an object is art because the artist declares it to be so: you can use objects made by others in creating “art”, and indeed everyone does because nobody makes the canvas or the paints, or the raw earthly pigments from which they come: all is built on something pre-existing. ‘KLF’ stands for Kopyright Liberation Front. It is the removal of the concept of copyright: everyone has the right to anything. The KLF sampled and copied other people’s music openly and wrote about it clearly, within the framework of expressions of human freedom and collective endeavour within the realms of physicality and metaphor. ‘The K Foundation’ is similarly an assertion about the inappropriateness of copyright, akin to Duchamp’s “ready-mades” expressing that pre-existing human creations such as paint go into paintings, therefore any act of art includes appropriation. All these expressions of the incompleteness of concepts of ownership were made openly, and adhered to by the artists involved.
And Tom is displaying a copy of Duchamp’s ‘Fountain’ (which was a ceramic construction made by someone else) at the LAS Summer Exhibition (link:
These are exciting times.
It’s all coming back.
It’s all ours.

Kopyright M.SMaRT

Sunday, 20 August 2017

7th September Talk: Geoffrey Adams on The Art of Framing

This is set to be an informative and entertaining evening as Geoffrey Adams shares his lifelong experiences in matters of picture framing. Geoffrey is a regular of the after-dinner circuit, talking about his life as a photographer, framer, writer, traveller and much more, but tonight he will focus on framing and how the frame can make the difference between a painting being a masterpiece or a turkey. You are invited, if you wish, to bring examples of your own work, maybe pictures already framed where you have doubts about the frame, or ones which you have not yet framed and would like some advice on the best approach. Starts 7.30 at Ludlow Assembly Rooms. All welcome.

Thursday, 17 August 2017

Duchamp commemorated at LAS Summer Exhibition - Next Week!

Will the exhibit of a urinal get the same treatment as a century ago when Marcel Duchamp’s exhibit was rejected?
Our Summer Exhibition opens to the public on the 23rd August at St. Laurence’s Church with a ‘splash’, 2017 being the centenary of the outrageous attempt to exhibit a urinal in New York.  If anyone thinks the Ludlow Art Society is dull, the celebration of the centenary of this momentous event should change that perception.  Readers of this blog are invited to a private reception at 6.30pm on the 22nd August at St. Laurence's.  Martin Evans the Welsh poet is rising to the occasion with a delicate verse or two to celebrate.

Marcel Duchamp was a French artist who became famous when he attempted to exhibit his work at the inaugural exhibition of the Society of Independent Artists.  His exhibit was in fact a simple urinal and the only work done was to sign it R MUTT and to grace it with the title of "Fountain".  It was rejected by the selectors, but nonetheless the event is considered by art historians as a major landmark in 20th century art. The original urinal was lost but the artist commissioned replicas.

All the art exhibited at our exhibition is original and most is for sale, with prices ranging from tens to hundreds of pounds. Admission is free and the exhibition is open daily from 10am to 5pm (Sunday opens 12 noon), closing at 2pm on 31st August.