Marcel Duchamp interview

Whilst watching the youtube broadcast of The Shock of the New (yes, I’m still trying to make sense of it), I came across a clip from a 1968 interview by Joan Bakewell (looking like her own granddaughter) with Marcel Duchamp, so I googled further.

It’s a fascinating half-hour interview. Duchamp wasn’t much of a “practising artist” after the 1920s, but even in 1968, shortly before his death, he still had much to say. He was hostile to the idea of “retinal art”, where you paint what you [think you] see. (In another interview he says that “la moderne n’est plus visible . . . elle est complètement matière grise”.)  He says he dislikes the “unnecessary adoration of art”. He enjoyed the role of chance in art – he rather appreciated the cracking in transit of the glass panes of “The Large Glass” (“The Bride Stripped Bare by her Bachelors, Even”, 1915-23, unfinished – perhaps unfinishable?).

Grayson Perry refers a couple of times to Ducamp’s “Fountain” (urinal) from 1917, but when the interview (along with the one in French) looks at Duchamp’s “Readymades” it’s his  1914 “Bottle Rack” which he brings into the studio. (Possibly because that was the one he had to hand? Or perhaps because nowadays we need a whiff of the quasi-scatological to feel any frisson of shock.) He confesses that after 20 years of living with them he cannot maintain his indifference to his readymades and ends up liking them.

I particularly enjoyed his conclusion (in 1968) that it was no longer possible to shock the public . . . while engaging in two activities which you never see on television these days: (1) blowing his nose, and (2) smoking a cigar while being interviewed. Wonderful! And yet he probably had no idea how dreadful his actions would be to future viewers.

It was very interesting (and made me long for the days when talking heads free of mediation or dramatic reconstruction were acceptable on television), but it didn’t give me any insight into Perry’s idea of a spiritual or emotional engagement with art.

But, oh, who needs memento mori or Death and the Maiden paintings when you have youtube? There’s Joan Bakewell in 1968 with her Mary Tyler Moore hairstyle, her contemporary miniskirt and her timeless beauty conversing with this liver-blotched old man who was then probably younger than Bakewell is now about his heyday before and during the First World War.

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