Blaženka Fabijanović (1918-1944), 2022, oil on canvas, 21×27 cm
Marcel Duchamp: Étant donnés
Michael R. Taylor
LEGACY (Part 2)*
* Taylor, Michael R.; Marcel Duchamp: Étant donnés, Philadelphia Museum of Art & Yale University Press, 2009, pp. 200-214, pp. 225-226. (Published on the occasion of an exhibition held at the Philadelphia Museum of Art, Aug. 15 - Nov. 1, 2009)
THE APPEARANCE OF MARCEL DUCHAMP IN THE SIXTIES
As discussed in chapter three, the Dublin-born Canadian video artist and self-styled "media sculptor" Les Levine created the first work of art inspired by Étant donnés in 1969. Although Andy Warhol's 1971 proposal for a gallery show in which visitors would look through a pair of binoculars at the artist Brigid Berlin (also known as Brigid Polk) performing in a nearby building has previously been credited as the first artistic response to Étant donnés, Levine's stereoscopic work predates this voyeuristic tribute by two years. During a 2006 interview, Levine expressed his long-held belief that Duchamp's enigmatic final work has a "cultural power equal to Leonardo's Mona Lisa. You can't stop looking at it. It puts questions in your mind." Levine had been aware of Duchamp's work since the mid-1950s, having seen the artist's Rotoreliefs and Boîte-en-valise while living and working as an industrial designer for Mar-vel Jewelry Company in Toronto. Shortly after Levine arrived in New York in 1964, he was introduced to Duchamp through a mutual friend, the French appropriation artist Sturtevant. Levine remembered the older artist as "charming ... with no trace of the egomania that often afflicts artists who have taken on mythic proportions in their own lifetime." The meeting encouraged Levine to explore the ramifications of Duchamp's protean ideas in his own pioneering work using television and other forms of new-media technology, as well as in his "disposables," low-cost, mass-produced sculptures in plastic and fiberglass. Produced in the late 1960s, these sculptures extended Duchamp's readymade gestures by making art available outside traditional museum and gallery settings; the pieces sold in department stores, priced at $1.25 each.
---- Levine saw Étant donnés shortly after it went on view in July 1969 and was deeply impressed by its visual appearance and conceptual framework. "Everything means something in Duchamp's work," he explained. "Since he made so little and thought so much about what he did make, nothing is really left to chance. Everything in Étant donnés is there for a reason." Deeming the work "an extraordinary milestone for contemporary art," Levine immediately began plans for a stereoscopic image that would replicate the mysterious aura of Duchamp's final work, which "deliberately emulated, in a modern way, that of the Mona Lisa, and which is why we are compelled to keep looking. Étant donnés is a model for some way Duchamp wants you to feel and think about art. Like Leonardo, he is interested in the mystery of vision, and what vision does to your mind."
---- Ignoring the fifteen-year moratorium on photography of the new work—which Levine believed had been imposed by an overly bureaucratic institution in direct opposition to the life and work of an artist whom he considered to be the very embodiment of artistic freedom—he returned to the Philadelphia Museum of Art in September 1969 with a camera. He brought along a wide-angle lens and Kodak Tri-X 400 ASA-speed film, knowing that a stock lens and standard film would not allow him to focus on and capture every element that could be seen through the peepholes. Levine considered his photography at the Museum to be an art performance; the project required subterfuge and bravado as the artist eluded the Museum's guards and waited for opportune moments when he would have the work to himself. Combining the photographs he took of the interior, as seen through the left and right peepholes, he produced a powerful three-dimensional illusion of the work, and in doing so overcame the difficulties that Duchamp himself had encountered in photographing Étant donnés.
---- When Levine asked the artist's widow, Teeny Duchamp, for consent to show the stereoscopic work publicly, she initially refused, believing that granting her permission would undermine the Museum's strict regulations forbidding photography of Étant donnés. However, the artist's widow eventually was persuaded by Levine's arguments that his photographs constituted an original work of art in its own right—one that provided an entirely new experience for the viewer, since it lacked the physical presence of Étant donnés and instead served as an example of Levine's own aesthetic concept, that of experiencing the world through film and photography. As he later argued, a distinction needed to be made between traditional artistic disciplines, such as painting and sculpture, and contemporary forms of representation produced by the camera: "The painter and sculptor create 'images through a variety of physical-making processes, which are all an extension of the industrial world, by brushing, pouring, moulding, shaping, etc. The camera artist creates ... images merely by seeing through a number of post-industrial devices, such as still cameras, vidicons, etc. The painter often goes through a series of processes to create an image. The camera artist merely processes images."
---- Having been persuaded that Levine's work represented a conceptual response to the questions of vision embodied in Duchamp's diorama, Teeny suggested that he produce a large edition of his pair of stereoscopic photographs, which like his "disposables" would be available for a small fee, bypassing the commercial gallery system and reaching a mass audience. In the end, Levine decided against such a distribution plan, which would have presented a logistical challenge for production and marketing, and instead published the work as a "mini-multiple" in the February 1970 issue of the Chicago-based magazine Art Gallery (see FIG. 3.24). Entitled The Appearance of Marcel Duchamp in the Sixties (Homage to Duchamp), Levine's work paid tribute to "the man who was no longer with us. We see the work, not him. This is how Duchamp appears today." A photograph of the exterior view of the Étant donnés door was followed by an offset lithograph of a photograph of the work's interior. By driving a pin through the peepholes and holding the door's image at a distance from the interior view, one could look through the pinholes for "still another way of seeing [Levine's] interpretation of Duchamp's work." As Levine wrote:
A-TROPHY IN A MUSEUM CASE
Levine's pioneering efforts to use Étant donnés as the touchstone for his own investigations of photography and stereoscopic images encouraged other artists to engage with Duchamp's tableau-construction in the 1970s. Foremost among these was the American artist Hannah Wilke, whose work offered a feminist critique of the voyeuristic gaze implicit in Étant donnés, which she first saw as a student at the Tyler School of Art in the Elkins Park suburb of Philadelphia. Famously declaring that "to honor Duchamp is to oppose him," in I Object, Memoirs of a Sugargiver (1977-78; fig. 4.7) Wilke used her own body to restage the splayed mannequin of Duchamp's tableau-installation, which she later described as "a rape victim, whore, fallen angel—A-Trophy in a museum case, Eye Object, I object." This statement undoubtedly was informed by the initial, hostile critical reception of Étant donnés, as well as Wilke's efforts as a feminist to deconstruct the phallocentric regime of masculinist art history.
---- I Object, Memoirs of a Sugargiver consists of two photographs of Wilke's nude body that were taken on the rocks near Cadaqués, where Duchamp vacationed every summer after 1958, and where he worked in secret on the landscape backdrop and body casts for the mannequin in Étant donnés. Wilke gave her photographic diptych the appearance of the front and back cover of a book that, when combined with the title of the work, presents her own twist on Marchand du sel (Salt Seller), the title of the French-born artist's collected writings. The clever anagrammatic pseudonym of Marcel Duchamp's name had been coined by the Surrealist poet Robert Desnos, author of a series of aphorisms written in a trancelike state between 1922 and 1923, which he claimed were transmitted to him telepathically by Rrose Sélavy, Duchamp's feminine alter ego. The thirteenth aphorism reads, "Rrose Sélavy connait bien le marchand du sel" (Rrose Sélavy knows the salt seller well). Although Duchamp later denied the telepathic transmission of Rrose Sélavy's maxim, he was happy to claim ownership of the pseudonym and to use it as the title of his essential writings, first published in 1958; the English translation was published in 1973 as Salt Seller: The Writings of Marcel Duchamp (Marchand du sel).
---- Wilke referenced and transformed Duchamp's pseudonym for the subtitle of her pseudo-autobiography, Memoirs of a Sugargiver, while the punning "I object" of the work's title (as in a courtroom objection) refers to her initial horrified response to Étant donnés as "repulsive" and vulgar. However, the title also has a homophonic connotation ("eye object") that acknowledges the viewer's relationship to her nude, prone, and objectified body in the two photographs. The term sugargiver also may refer to Wilke's sugary chewing-gum sculptures, suggestive of female genitalia, which she produced in countless versions of varying sizes, giving many away as gifts. On June 15, 1976, the artist presented one of her trademark, masticated chewing-gum sculptures to Anne d'Harnoncourt, then Curator of Twentieth-Century Art at the Philadelphia Museum of Art, during the filming of Hannah Wilke through the Large Glass, in which Wilke performed a slow and highly erotic striptease behind Duchamp's Large Glass (fig. 4.8). The artist stuck a tiny, vaginalike loop of chewing gum directly on the contract that the curator held in her hands, perhaps believing that it could be used in place of her signature on this legal document, which defined the terms of making Through the Large Glass and the related black-and-white film Philly at the Museum.
---- Wilke's three-dimensional abstractions of labial folds and vaginal openings in flesh-colored chewed gum also belong to her ongoing dialogue with Duchamp's work and ideas. She was particularly drawn to the erotic objects related to the casting process of Étant donnés, such as Female Fig Leaf, which she admired for its gender indeterminacy. At the time of Wilke's performance, the Museum recently had received the 1961 bronze cast of the Female Fig Leaf as a gift from Teeny Duchamp. During a break in the filming, Anne d'Harnoncourt explained to the artist that the object's curved depression, divided by a thin ridge running vertically up the front of the piece, was probably the result of the piece having been cast from a human vulva or, more likely, from the genitalia of the three-dimensional mannequin in Étant donnés. Wilke connected the work's oscillating inversion of sexual identity with her own sculptures, which she claimed should not be understood exclusively as representing female sexual organs, since any of the malleable forms could just as easily be interpreted as the head of a circumcised penis.
---- Although Wilke was frequently accused by fellow feminists of narcissistically flaunting her body, the artist's flamboyant self-performances in front of the camera involved a profound meditation on the objectification of women. As film scholar Laura Mulvey maintained in her influential 1975 essay, "Visual Pleasure and Narrative Cinema," the female body in Western culture consistently has been rendered as the object of scopophilic identification and fetishistic, voyeuristic pleasure through the structure of the desiring "gaze," which in Mulvey's model is inexorably male. Her feminist deconstruction of male-gendered spectatorship and the "to-be-looked-at-ness" of the female nude in the history of art strongly resonates with the deliberate staging of Wilke's I Object. The artist is both stripper and stripped bare, playing a dual role that acknowledges her participation as a centerfold sexual object and the focus of voyeuristic desire, while it simultaneously deconstructs and subverts the logic and power of the male gaze (what Wilke called, apropos of Duchamp's final tableau-construction, "the macho manipulation of man as owner of life's game") through its deliberate reiteration.
---- According to art historian Amelia Jones, Duchamp's spread-eagled mannequin "aggressively solicits and simultaneously repels the uncomfortable gaze of the peeping viewer (who is forced to place her or his eyes at the holes drilled in the wooden door in front of the nude)." In contrast, Wilke exposes herself openly and voluntarily, "removing the obstacle of the door and encouraging the gaze to roam freely across her photographed body." This play of opposites pits Duchamp as salt seller, the male promoter of commodities, against Wilke's sugar-sweet, commodifiable body, given for free and open to everyone, but ignores a small yet significant detail of her photographic diptych— the fleshy blur in the lower left-hand corner of the cover image. This intrusion is actually the knee of the artist Richard Hamilton, just entering the frame as he leaned over a jagged, rocky promontory to photograph Wilke from above, an elevated position that recalls the furtive actions of a Peeping Tom spying on a sunbathing female stranger below. As Wilke was no doubt aware, Hamilton assumed the traditional role of the male voyeur implicit in Duchamp's tableau-construction, with the prone and nude Wilke playing the role of eye-object while simultaneously undermining the masculine regime of difference.
---- The photographs for I Object were taken at Cap de Creus on the Catalan coastline, a place that Wilke associated with their open-air lovemaking. Hamilton was married at the time, and their affair, like Duchamp's Étant donnés, was a closely guarded secret requiring carefully planned clandestine meetings in places like Cadaqués, where Hamilton had a summer home and they could rendezvous without fear of discovery. This information adds a certain frisson and another level of meaning to what was already a well-orchestrated and multilayered collaborative piece. Although Hamilton had been extremely moved by Duchamp's tableau-construction when he first saw it in 1969, his active participation in Wilke's critique of the work suggests a deep ambivalence about Étant donnés that he has noted in subsequent interviews.
---- Duchamp's heroic status for the generation of artists who emerged in the 1950s and 1960s points to the source of an alternative reading of I Object, one in which Hamilton's active but secret involvement can be seen as an oedipal act designed to overcome and destroy the father figure of postmodernism. Artists like Hamilton, Johns, and Rauschenberg considered themselves the self-anointed sons of Duchamp, as reflected in Sturtevant's 1967 restaging of Man Ray's famous photograph Ciné-Sketch (fig. 4.9). In her work, Sturtevant invited Rauschenberg to assume the role of Duchamp as he had appeared in Man Ray's photograph (see FIG. 2.21), which showed the French artist naked save for a fake beard and a well-placed rose over his genitals, performing in a tableau vivant that re-created Lucas Cranach the Elder's Adam and Eve during the intermission of Francis Picabia's 1924 ballet Relâche (No Performance). That Rauschenberg played Duchamp, complete with false beard and improvised fig leaf, opposite the naked Sturtevant underscores his deep attachment to the artist and his ideas.
---- To artists of Rauschenberg and Hamilton's generation, the phantasmic hyperrealism of Duchamp's Étant donnés was perceived as an embarrassing failure, especially when compared with the ground-breaking iconoclasm of the readymades and the cerebral invention of The Large Glass. How could this note-making, diagram drawing, Leonardo-like genius stoop so low as to present a titillating peepshow containing a veristic, spread-eagled nude? Such a protest overlooks a crucial aspect of Duchamp's intellectual development and creative process, namely, his embrace of contradiction as a means to avoid personal taste, including, it would seem, his oft-stated aversion to retinal art. Unlike so many of his convention-bound followers, Duchamp had no qualms about creating his nude female simulacrum and her illusionistically painted Technicolor hills, since to have reused the dry, diagrammatic visual language of The Large Glass would have been to doom himself to needless repetition and boredom.
---- Since the 1950s, Hamilton had publicly fashioned himself as Duchamp's son and heir, publishing a typographic English translation of the artist's Green Box notes in 1959 and organizing his landmark retrospective at the Tate Gallery in 1966, an exhibition that included a painstakingly exact replica of The Large Glass. Despite their close friendship, however, Duchamp never let Hamilton in on the secret of Étant donnés, and we may surmise that the younger artist felt betrayed, akin to a son who discovers that his late and much revered father had conducted an extramarital relationship over several decades. If Duchamp was the paternal figure who failed, then Hamilton and Wilke's response in the I Object photographs must be understood, at least on some level, as a rebellious oedipal attack on the artist whom Wilke described as "the Sphinx himself, the creative spirit, the maker, God, himself the Father."
AN ECOLOGICAL UNCONSCIOUS
While Wilke's response to Étant donnés foregrounds the role of voyeurism and the desiring male gaze, the American artist Robert Gober has chosen instead to highlight the part played by artifice and illusion, and his work shares with Duchamp's final piece a fastidiously handmade quality. Gober's admiration for the uncanny hyperrealism of Duchamp's nude torso signals a shift away from the concerns of artists who had viewed Étant donnés as a late aberration that marred an otherwise nearly flawless oeuvre. In a 2007 interview, Gober stated that he has long regarded Duchamp's posthumously revealed work as a "legitimizing force" for his own artistic practice, both in terms of the startling realism of its handcrafted artifice as well as its lack of fixed meaning. To find another artist working with body casts and tableau settings was "a great boost" to Gober, who also spoke of his admiration for Duchamp's clandestine act of creating a hyperrealistic assemblage at a time when everyone had assumed that he had given up art for chess. For Gober, the seductive artifice and erotic nature of Étant donnés represent a new paradigm in the history of art, and his own enigmatic and complex sculptures—which draw on his personal experience and imagination and feature disembodied limbs cast in wax—can be seen as capturing and regenerating the subversive gesture of Duchamp's iconoclastic final work.
---- In 1992, Gober's environmental installation at the Dia Center for the Arts in New York (see fig. 4.10) consisted of a vast interior space whose walls were covered in a hand-painted trompe l'oeil scene: a sun-dappled forest setting sandwiched between two darkened rooms that served to emphasize the dazzlingly bright illumination of the central gallery. The artist based his view on photographs of a dense wooded area near his Long Island home, which he then collaged together, sometimes repeating areas or reversing their orientation, to form a seamless panorama in much the same way that Duchamp constructed his own illuminated backdrop for Étant donnés. Slides were taken of Gober's photocollage and then projected onto the walls at Dia to provide a template for scenic painters from Quinn-Rockwell Studios, who completed a 360-degree view of the woodland setting. The faux-forest walls were designed to evoke a sylvan glade, despite the fact that the densely clustered trees and ferns were punctuated with other works by Gober, including eight handcrafted white sinks with running water and four prison windows, the latter inserted high on the walls, with each window containing three hand-forged iron bars and a recessed box depicting bright blue sky. On the floor, strategically placed underneath several of the sinks, were boxes of Enforcer Rat Bait, while stacks of bound newspapers hugged the walls and columns. The boxes were printed by Gober himself, yet their realistic construction linked them to the actual daily newspapers that assaulted visitors with their lurid headlines.
---- The forested walls and gushing faucets of this Uncanny and profoundly dystopian natural environment subtly alluded to Duchamp's Étant donnés. Indeed, as art historian Hal Foster has observed, the only thing missing in the haunting mise-en-scène was the "body, the corpus delicti," provocatively concluding that the viewer's own body stood in for the missing nude and allowed Gober to extend and update Duchamp's idea that the spectator completes the work of art. In Étant donnés, the idyllic pastoral landscape and waterfall are rendered strange and ominous through the lavish, handmade artificiality of the female nude, whose anatomical distortions signal that something is wrong in paradise. Gober's metaphorically laden Dia diorama similarly imparted a disquieting sense of unease and tension to the viewer, who slowly but surely recognized—through the rat poison, the newspaper accounts of kidnapping, murder, racism, and AIDS, and the threat of imprisonment implied by the barred windows—the menacing dangers lurking beneath the arboreal splendor of the pristine natural environment.
---- Gober has specifically linked the use of running water in his handmade sinks at Dia to Étant donnés, a work that challenged received ideas about Duchamp's commitment to the rejection of representation and illusionism. The earlier artist's radical assertion of independence through his final tableau-environment was "a liberating factor" for Gober, one that confirmed his own belief in artistic freedom and his conviction that artists "should defy expectations and do exactly what they want to do, regardless of the consequences." Prior to the Dia installation, Gober's wall-mounted plumbing fixtures frequently had been compared not only to Duchamp's paradigmatic readymade Fountain—an unaltered white porcelain urinal that the artist submitted under the pseudonym "R. Mutt" to the first exhibition of the Society of Independent Artists in New York in 1917—but also to the industrially manufactured surfaces of Minimalism. Critics noted that Gober's sinks were indexed to his homosexuality through their association with public men's rooms and the furtive sex acts that take place there, while their nonfunctioning aspect and association with waste and bodily fluids were commonly assumed to represent his artistic response to the AIDS epidemic then decimating New York's gay community. However, the introduction of sound and movement into the sinks at Dia, with their babbling faucets of perpetually flowing water, suddenly animated these previously functionless objects with a musicality that transported the visitor, thus deliberately problematizing the previous reception of Gober's work. As the artist later explained, "I wanted the feeling of the show to be positive and mature. And I think I felt that making the sink functional wasn't only an internal imperative of expressing who I am, but maybe it was also a response to so much of the interpretation that had to do with the nonfunctioning sink and the [AIDS] epidemic and myself as a gay man. I think I felt a need to turn that around and to not have a gay artist represented as a nonfunctioning utilitarian object, but one functioning beautifully, almost in excess."
---- As several commentators have pointed out, his subsequent room-sized installation at the Museum of Contemporary Art in Los Angeles in 1997 (fig. 4.11a,b) also resonated with the eerily still environment of Duchamp's culminating work, as well as with the natural-history museum dioramas that had fascinated Gober since childhood. Although most critics chose to focus attention on the redemptive iconography embodied in the artist's sanctuary sculpture of a six foot-high Virgin Mary cast in concrete and penetrated at midsection with a massive screw-ribbed culvert pipe, it was the large drainage grate beneath the Virgin's feet that was of particular note within the context of Gober's interest in Étant donnés. When visitors looked through the metal grill, they saw a beautiful, brightly lit, and tranquil tide pool filled with glimmering oversize coins—quarters, nickels, dimes, and pennies—all apparently "minted" in 1954, the year of the artist's birth. Similarly, two old-fashioned, oversize suitcases flanking the Virgin were placed in an open position that allowed visitors to peer through additional storm-drain grates and discover a watery underworld teeming with life. These glistening tide pools also offered a partial view of a wading man holding a baby (although only the wax legs of the man and the dangled infant were visible), recalling Duchamp's pairing of a waterfall and a nude torso in his tableau-construction, which Gober and his studio assistants had visited during the build-up to the Los Angeles installation.
---- These uncanny subterranean scenes were created with an exacting, almost obsessive attention to detail. An array of sea urchins, rocks, shells, clams, mussels, and seaweed had been painstakingly fabricated using synthetic rubber casts of natural objects that the artist had found on the Maine coastline, evoking Duchamp's lovingly rendered and insistently handmade bricolage construction of Étant donnés. As the art historian Brenda Richardson has noted, both works "involve elaborate behind-the-scenes structural and mechanical support and both were years in the making." The crystalline intensity of Gober's aqueous world also recalls the bright, artificial lighting of Duchamp's tableau-construction, in which a nude body similarly is viewed through a small aperture that determines the position of the viewer. Gober, like Duchamp before him, explores the careful manipulation of the viewer's experience through fixed vantage points and the suggestion, teasingly offered yet ultimately denied, that one can achieve a full panoramic view of these truncated bodies and their mysteriously illuminated environments.
---- Emblems of loss, transition, and passage, as well as surrogates for the orifices and conduits of the human body, sinks and drains have been recurring themes in Gober's work since the late 1980s, although he has said that at the time of their initial production he had been unaware of Duchamp's own drain-related sculpture: a medallion fashioned out of lead that was made in 1964 to plug a shower drain in the bathroom of his summer home in Cadaqués. This object was too light in weight to function well and was replaced in 1965, when Duchamp cast a heavier version that was twice the thickness of the original. In 1967, he issued three series of casts in editions of one hundred copies in bronze (P 67a,b), polished stainless steel, and sterling silver, in what would be the final sculpture edition that he authorized. These medallions, which Duchamp entitled Bouche-évier (Sink Stopper), can be related to earlier erotic objects, such as Female Fig Leaf and Coin de chasteté (Wedge of Chastity; P 46-48a,b), through the reference to the mouth (bouche) and the suggestion of plugged orifices.
---- Gober's earliest drains were cast in pewter and set into gallery walls at the level of his own breastbone (fifty-three inches high), thus recalling the hidden world of Duchamp's circular Green Ray portal (see FIG. 2.13) and the peepholes of Étant donnés. In a 1994 exhibition at the Paula Cooper Gallery in New York, Gober installed a city grate, flush with the floor, through which viewers could just make out the nude torso of a man with a sink drain embedded in his chest (fig. 4.12). He has described his drains "as metaphors functioning in the same way as traditional paintings, as a window into another world. However, the world that you enter into through the metaphor of the drain would be something darker and unknown, like an ecological unconscious." As Duchamp did in Étant donnés, Gober interrogates the pictorial convention of the painting as window through an eroticization of perspectival vision and the gaze, which no longer can be seen as innocent let alone scientific, but are instead "marked by sexual difference."
EVEN THE GHOST OF THE PAST
Like Duchamp, the New York-based Canadian artist Marcel Dzama is interested in the implications of the fixed vantage point, which for Étant donnés hints that the scene witnessed is part of a larger tableau, much of which is cut off from sight by the restricted position imposed by the peepholes in the stout wooden door. While the viewing conditions for Gober's intricate tableau-environments similarly deny full access to the fragmented bodies within—yet at the same time offer the possibility that the entire figure is present—Dzama exacerbates the discrepancy between what is seen and not seen by treating Étant donnés like a Surrealist cadavre exquis (exquisite corpse) in his drawings, collages, and tableau-construction (fig. 4.14).
---- Based on an old parlor game, cadavre exquis was defined in the Dictionnaire abrége du Surréalisme as a "game of folded paper that consists in having a sentence or a drawing composed by several persons, each ignorant of the preceding collaboration. The classic example, which gave its name to the game, is the first sentence obtained by those means: ‘The exquisite corpse / will drink / the new / wine.’" In this collective activity, the first participant writes a few words or makes a drawing, and then folds over the sheet of paper for the next person, who does the same without peeking at the first phrase or sketch, thus ensuring that the finished work departs from accepted notions of reality (fig. 4.13). The resulting strange and often preposterous images and sentences answered the Surrealists' interest in utilizing chance procedures to unlock the secrets of the unconscious. As Andre Breton later explained, "With the Exquisite Corpse we had at our disposal—at last—an infallible means of sending the mind's critical mechanism away on vacation and fully releasing its metaphorical potentialities." The freely conceived hybrid creations—poems, drawings, and occasionally collages—are close in spirit to automatic writing and drawing, since their revelatory power comes from juxtapositions that produce unforeseen and unplanned similarities and metaphors. Drawing on his vivid imagination and consummate skill as a draftsman, Dzama is an especially adept exponent of this game. Although the artist's incongruous images are the product of a single participant rather than a collaborative effort, his works follow the standard Surrealist iconography of the exquisite corpse with their conglomerate bodies and scenes of death and violence that often make reference to female torsos, body fragments, and cadavers, as reflected by its name.
---- Struck by the homophonic similarity of their names, Marcel Dzama first became interested in Marcel Duchamp as a small boy growing up in the Canadian city of Winnipeg. In 2003, Dzama visited the Duchamp gallery at the Philadelphia Museum of Art while participating in a group exhibition entitled Odd Fellows at the Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts. Although impressed with works such as The Large Glass and Why Not Sneeze, Rose Sélavy? (1921), Dzama was especially intrigued by Étant donnés, which he began to imaginatively re-create in a series of works bearing the tide Even the Ghost of the Past, in reference to his childhood interest in Duchamp, as well as to a conversation between the Canadian artist and his grandfather regarding Midwestern miners and the legacy of American labor organizations. Dzama's tide, with its reiteration of the word "even," also recalls the English translation of the full tide of what is known as The Large Glass—The Bride Stripped Bare by Her Bachelors, Even—which he extends and "completes" with the words "the ghost of the past" in much the same way that he adds new and unexpected elements to the Étant donnés diorama.
---- In one drawing in the series especially redolent of the exquisite corpse genre, the recumbent nude's legs are comically elongated and redeployed to form climbing frames, like a child's jungle gym, for Dzama's standard cast of human, animal, and hybrid characters (see fig. 4.15). Some of the figures are nude, while others wear masks that derive from the work of the Cuban-born French artist Francis Picabia, another of Dzama's Dadaist heroes, whose work he turned to after seeing the comprehensive Dada exhibition that was held at the Museum of Modern Art in New York in 2006. The vast majority of Dzama's later works, however, concentrate on an imagined scene to the left of the view offered by Duchamp's three-dimensional tableau-construction.
---- Through the drawings and the diorama that comprise Even the Ghost of the Past, Dzama proposes a hilarious solution to what has happened offstage prior to the scene depicted in Étant donnés, even though photographs of the work in Duchamp's studio, as in the Manual of Instructions, reveal that the space beyond what we witness in the diorama is an empty, dead zone. Duchamp saw no reason to extend the mannequin's legs and right arm or the landscape environment further than the visual field determined by the peepholes. Undeterred, Dzama executed several of his trademark ink and watercolor drawings—in which the burgundy tones are made from water mixed with root beer–flavored syrup—to explain and demystify the presence of the splayed nude in the earlier work. One of the drawings in Dzama's series also includes an image of the interior of Duchamp's tableau as a collage element. In all of these compositions, the scene has opened out, like a photograph taken by a camera with a wide-angle lens, to reveal the previously "blocked" scene of a man and woman, both nude, who lie side by side. They have been knocked unconscious by a blow from a stone fired from the slingshot of a fox that stands triumphantly over its victims. The production of Dzama's drawings coincided with his burgeoning interest in film and video, as seen in The Lotus Eaters (2005), perhaps explaining his use of shifting perspectives and unexpected views.
---- The graphically rendered fantasy of Even the Ghost of the Past was later turned into a harshly lit, three dimensional diorama (fig. 4.17a,b), on view in 2008 at the David Zwirner Gallery in New York, that pays homage to the artificial staging of Duchamp's Étant donnés. Recessed in a gallery wall and glimpsed through peepholes in a metal door, Dzama's haunting, almost life-size re-creation of Étant donnés presented glazed ceramic sculptures of entangled male and female figures, who slept undisturbed on a bed of branches while above them hovered a taxidermic fox guarding its prey with a nervous eye. Duchamp's original scene was shifted slightly to the left, and thus the viewer's focus moved away from the recumbent female nude to home in on the male's limp and hairless genitalia, which were framed by the rough brick aperture. In the background, a brightly colored landscape, including a static painted waterfall, was rendered in acrylic paint on blackboard. Under the glare of a bright, overhead lamp that shined directly on their faces, the male and female figures appeared to be in a deep and peaceful sleep, their intertwined arms symbolizing, according to the artist, their "loving relationship." Above them stood the stuffed fox that originally was intended to hold a slingshot in its mouth, suggesting a comical David and Goliath scenario in which the two nude giants had been felled by a wily fox with an expert aim.
---- Like Duchamp, Dzama constructed much of his three-dimensional diorama from twigs, bricks, and other materials he had collected in New York and its environs, although the glazed ceramic figures were made in Mexico using body casts of live models, whose skin was coated with Vaseline for protection (fig. 4.16). He found the twigs in Washington Square, the stuffed fox in a flea market, and the bricks in the remains of a building near his studio that had been demolished after a fire—leading him to view the work as a salute to New York, just as Duchamp had done earlier by evoking the Statue of Liberty in his use of a burning lamp triumphantly held aloft by the outstretched arm of a woman in his cover design for Andre Breton's Young Cherry Trees Secured against Hares (P 6).
---- Dzama was not the first artist to make a three dimensional reconstruction of Duchamp's final masterwork. From 1988 to 1991, Richard Baquié undertook a project to faithfully re-create Étant donnés, using the Manual of Instructions as a guide (see fig. 4.18). Intended as a response or reply to Duchamp's original, the French sculptor's jerry-built, three-dimensional reconstruction revealed the hidden spectacle of the earlier diorama, which now could be viewed in the round as it was displayed in Duchamp's studio, before the piece was disassembled and moved to Philadelphia. Baquié later expressed regrets that he had not seen the work firsthand before beginning his full-scale reconstruction, and remarked that he considered his work a "failure," as reflected in the tide of his 1991 retrospective, Richard Baquié, Constats d'échec (Admissions of Failure). The exhibition title offers a Duchampian play on words, since the French échec can be translated either as "failure" or "check," as in a game of chess.
---- Baquie remounted Étant donnés "to see whether the image contains something other than the image," but also in the hope of achieving a similar state of mind to the one that engendered the tableau-construction. However, by working from Duchamp's step-by-step instructions in the manual, rather than from direct observation, Baquié eliminated the calculated obstacles that the original work deliberately placed in front of the viewer/voyeur. Visible from every angle, Sans titre: Étant donnés; 1º la chute d'eau, 2º le gaz d'éclairage (Without Title: Étant donnés ... ) thus exposes the complex, behind-the scenes machinery that was essential to the illusionism of Duchamp's erotic peepshow. Stripped of the original work's voyeuristic impulse, Baquié's re-creation feels inert and eviscerated. Those visitors who circumambulate his replica at the Musee d'Art Contemporain de Lyon are often surprised at its lack of intensity, especially evident in the slick, lifeless nude and the mundane, drab appearance of the landscape backdrop, in comparison to the haunting, otherworldly quality of Duchamp's luminous tableau-construction at the Philadelphia Museum of Art.
---- Rather than seeking to accurately simulate the original, as Baquié had done, in 2006 American artist Richard Jackson's installation entitled The Maid's Room, at the Galerie Georges-Philippe et Nathalie Vallois in Paris, humorously transformed Duchamp's mannequin into a sleeping housemaid—holding aloft the nozzle of a vacuum cleaner in place of the Bec Auer lamp—who reclines on pink satin sheets in a brightly hued domestic interior, complete with a bathroom and bidet (fig. 4.19). The lurid color scheme of the maid's furnished room, together with the sterile plastic form of her splayed anatomy, initially suggest that Jackson's work had a closer affinity with Tom Wesselmann's Great American Nude series, begun in 1961, than with Duchamp's tableau-construction. However, Jackson's production of his own handwritten version of the Manual of Instructions reveals a deeper affiliation with the French artist than one might expect. Like Dzama's work, Jackson's Maid's Room reconfigured Étant donnés through new and unexpected materials to create an alternative scenario for Duchamp's diorama that paid homage to the original while also underscoring the endless possibilities for artistic appropriation offered by its open-ended nature.
---- This notion also was explored by the Argentinean collective Provisorio-Permanente, whose members—Victoria no Alonso, Eduardo T. Basualdo, Hernán Soriano, and Pedro Wainer—are experimental artists trained in different disciplines, including theater, film, animation, and painting. Their 2007 collaborative work entitled El Vestido de la bestia (The Garment of the Beast), at the Fondo Nacional de las Artes in Buenos Aires, re-created Duchamp's three dimensional diorama but added new elements, most notably a windmill on the horizon and a male figure holding a lantern, who stooped over the splayed female nude (fig. 4.20). Her outstretched hand held aloft a reflecting mirror. The work thus returned to Duchamp's initial idea for the composition, as seen in Hand Reflection (plate 17), in which viewers would see themselves in the mirror and thus be caught in the act of voyeuristically gazing at the open-legged woman—who in The Garment of the Beast was both physically present and appeared on a video monitor in the exhibition space.
---- Another three-dimensional installation that reconstructed Duchamp's tableau-environment was presented by the American artist Kelly Kaczynski at the Triple Candie Gallery in the Harlem neighborhood of New York in 2005. Nani's Book Ends consisted of a carefully orchestrated installation of seven free-standing sculptures, ranged around a large room and precisely positioned to create a loose configuration of Étant donnés when viewed from a small, single peephole that was located in another sculpture at the entrance to the exhibition space (see fig. 4.21). The body of Duchamp's recumbent nude was constructed from the negative space between Kaczynski's isolated, expertly placed sculptures, which deftly re-created the artist's tableau-assemblage. However, the near-perfect optical illusion felt much closer in spirit to the dazzlingly complex series of paintings made by Salvador Dali in 1938, in which he projected multiple images into elaborate, episodic compositions featuring commonplace surroundings and objects. In the mind-boggling, intricate Apparition of Face and Fruit Dish on a Beach (fig. 4.22), for example, Dalí contrasted deep, open spaces with smooth, malleable shapes to create a visual drama fraught with tense logical overtones. Just as Kaczynski's disparate sculptural elements coalesce to form a composite image of Duchamp's tableau, the embedded imagery in Dalí's 1938 painting can be read simultaneously as a landscape with a beach, a standing dog, and a hallucinatory face, all of which are integrated into the central image of a tabletop still life featuring a fruit dish with pears.
* Taylor, Michael R.; Marcel Duchamp: Étant donnés, Philadelphia Museum of Art & Yale University Press, 2009, pp. 200-214, pp. 225-226. (Published on the occasion of an exhibition held at the Philadelphia Museum of Art, Aug. 15 - Nov. 1, 2009)
 See Thomas Girst, "(Ab)using Marcel Duchamp: The Concept of the Readymade in Post-war and Contemporary American Art," in Francis M. Naumann and Girst, Aftershock: The Legacy of the Readymade in Post-war and Contemporary American Art, exh. cat. (New York: Dickinson Roundell, 2003), p. 123n48. In a June 1971 telephone conversation between Warhol and David Bourdon, the artist explained that the idea of gallery visitors spying on Polk through a pair of binoculars "has something to do with the same thing Duchamp was doing [in Étant donnés], looking through a box. Sex ... in the window ... Oh, that would be nutty. That's just the kind of thing you'd want to see with binoculars—some perversion, right? Somebody jerking off. Brigid [Berlin] could be the art. She could stand in the window." Andy Warhol, quoted in Bourdon, Warhol (New York: Abrams, 1989), p. 315.
Robert Gober, Marcel Dzama and Étant donnés (Given)