The Moderns--6

[ Duchamp and Beckmann ]

Marcel Duchamp (1887-1968) worked first in Paris, under the influence of Cezanne. A revolutionary in his own way, Duchamp attempted a variety of approaches to his work and in the process he "called into question all the processes of art. Sometimes he would reduce his subject matter to the components of a fantastic machine; at other times he rendered objects with a scientific accuracy that gave them a superreal and fantastic quality" (Witt 409). The Chocolate Grinder (1913) is an example. He "initiated a dynamic vision of facet Cubism, similar to Futurism, by superimposing successive phases of movement on each other..." (Janson 527).

Nude Descending a Staircase (1912)

Nude Descending a Staircase caused a sensation. In Duchamp one can see both the intellectual trends and technological developments of the late 19th and early 20th centuries. For example, art historians comment on Duchamp's incorporation of the imagery of time lapse photography (Witt 409) in this masterpiece.


He also moved in entirely new directions: "For the Armory Show in the United States in 1913 he...submitted a urinal...with the name Fountain (409-410). The administrators of the exhibit refused to include it. "Perhaps no work is more singularly identifed with the transformation of art in the twentieth century than 'Fountain' (1917) by Marcel Duchamp" (San Francisco Museum of Modern Art). His "...porcelain urinal was to become the most important and notorious of the 'ready-mades,' which revolutionized the possibilities for artmaking through their direct use of manufactured consumer products" (SFMOMA). Unfortunately (?,) the original has disappeared.
Duchamp is credited with founding the protest movement known as Dada in around 1915. The origins of the word are somewhat obscure: it might represent meaningless baby talk; it might derive from the French word for rocking horse or hobbyhorse (Witt 409). Duchamp and his fellow Dadaists demonstrated through their work that "all established values, moral or aesthetic, had been rendered meaningless by the catastrophe of the Great War" (Janson 528). It was Duchamp who put a moustache on his version of Mona Lisa. "...Dada was not a completely negative movement. In its calculated irrationality there was also liberation..." (Janson 528). Dada artists looked "with a deep seriousness" at the "irrational, the subjective, the unconstructed side of the human psyche..." (Witt 409). To put it another way, life and art are both random and uncontrolled (Witt 409).


The Large Glass also known as The Bride Stripped Bare by her Bachelors (1915) is both a "love machine" and a machine of suffering. "The bride is hanging, perhaps from a rope, in an isolated cage, or crucified.... The realm of the bachelors is even more complicated.... They look like hanging articles of clothing..." (Janis Mink in Harden, Artchive). It became "a seminal surrealist work," as Duchamp worked on it on and off for years; on a large plate glass, allowed random elements like dust and cracks in the pane to become part of the creation (Witt 410). >

Like many of his contemporaries, Max Beckmann (1884-1950) was influenced by the themes of the late 19th century, scarred by the Great War, and devastated by the onset of Nazism in his native Germany. However, before 1933, the German art world considered him a "national treasure" (Artchive, Drutt). He entered art school in Weimar (1900,) traveled to Paris for additional training (1903,) and settled down to work in Berlin (1906.) In these early days, his work reflected the Impressionist vogue "with lanscapes and beach scenes rendered in stippled brushstrokes to evoke the play of light across form." (Artchive, Drutt).

Hell (1919)

1914 changed everything: Beckmann enlisted as a medical volunteer but was discharged after an emotional collapse a year later. The war "left him in deep despair at the state of modern civilization" (Janson 517). After 1917, his "...rendering of space took on a vaguely Cubist orientation, with figures compressed into torturous settings and angular forms tilting precariously..." (Artchive, Drutt). The works of the post war period took on the appearance of a "mocking nightmare" depicting a "zigzag world crammed with disquieting as ... Bosch... (Janson 517).

In post-war Weimar Germany, he was hailed as one of the nation's foremost painters. His works were shown as collections in galleries not only in Germany but in the United States. Joining other artists, like Grosz, he found useless the "worn-out language of traditional symbols" (Janson 517). 1933 and the ascension of Hitler brought an end to Beckmann's good fortune: his art was branded as "degenerate" and systematically removed from all German museums. Beckmann fled to Amsterdam in 1937.


Beckmann's paintings in the Netherlands and later when he fled to America include subjects both "constructed and obscured by masquerade." (Artchive) As in Actresses, he offers "grand theatricalizations of human tragedy rather than celebrating the lighthearted pleasure such spectacles usually elicit." (Artchive, Drutt) Rather, Beckmann creates a "sinister sideshow..." (Janson 517).


Begin the Beguine (1946)


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