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“The entirely cerebral genius who just about abandoned art in favor of chess.”

from The Washington Post

Face Value

At Portrait Gallery, Duchamp’s Teasing Puzzles of Identity

Who is Marcel Duchamp? He’s the man who, in 1912, made the masterpiece of modern painting titled “Nude Descending the Staircase, No. 2.” Except when he’s the virulently anti-painting guy who, just five years later, took a standard urinal and declared it to be a work of art.

Duchamp is the entirely cerebral genius who just about abandoned art in favor of chess. Except when he’s the aging letch who worked in secret on “Etant DonnĂ©s,” a laboriously crafted peep show that’s far too crude for us to present in this paper.

Just when you think you know Marcel Duchamp, he slips away again. And that may be the most important thing about him. At least, that’s the strong impression left by “Inventing Marcel Duchamp: The Dynamics of Portraiture,” an ambitious show at the National Portrait Gallery. The exhibition adds yet another, little-acknowledged dimension to Duchamp: It argues that the art of portraiture — in Duchamp’s self-portraits and also in images he let others make of him — was central to his whole career. And it shows that, for Duchamp, portraiture was all about demolishing our stale ideas about an artist — or a person — as a single, stable thing. In the 100 portraits in this show, Duchamp can be male one minute, female the next. He can be a European man of letters or an outlaw from the Wild West. He can be a fleshy prizefighter or a champagne glass full of inanimate scraps.

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Posted on April 13, 2009 by Editor

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