Friday, September 9, 2011

Marcel Duchamp and 'A nude never descends'

I never knew much about Marcel Duchamp other than the urinal fountain thing. Turns out he had some vicious detractors in his days including President Theodore Roosevelt.

Nude Descending a Staircase, No. 2 by Marcel Duchamp

About the above painting you have the following background from Wikipedia:
"Duchamp first submitted the work to appear in a Cubist show at the Salon des Ind├ępendants in Paris, but jurist Albert Gleizes asked Duchamp's brothers, Jacques Villon and Raymond Duchamp-Villon, to have him voluntarily withdraw the painting, or paint over the title that he had painted on the work and rename it something else. The hanging committee objected to the work on the grounds that it had "too much of a literary title", and that "a nude never descends the stairs—a nude reclines".

Of the incident Duchamp recalled,

"I said nothing to my brothers. But I went immediately to the show and took my painting home in a taxi. It was really a turning point in my life, I can assure you. I saw that I would not be very much interested in groups after that."

He submitted the painting to the 1913 Armory Show in New York City located where Americans, accustomed to naturalistic art, were scandalized. Julian Street, an art critic for the New York Times wrote that the work resembled "an explosion in a shingle factory," and cartoonists satirized the piece. It spawned dozens of parodies in the years that followed.

After attending the Armory Show and seeing Marcel Duchamp's Nude Descending a Staircase, President Theodore Roosevelt wrote (using his own, also valid translation):

"Take the picture which for some reason is called 'A Naked Man Going Down Stairs'. There is in my bathroom a really good Navajo rug which, on any proper interpretation of the Cubist theory, is a far more satisfactory and decorative picture. Now, if, for some inscrutable reason, it suited somebody to call this rug a picture of, say, 'A Well-Dressed Man Going Up a Ladder', the name would fit the facts just about as well as in the case of the Cubist picture of the 'Naked Man Going Down Stairs'. From the standpoint of terminology each name would have whatever merit inheres in a rather cheap straining after effect; and from the standpoint of decorative value, of sincerity, and of artistic merit, the Navajo rug is infinitely ahead of the picture."
On a lighter note though:

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