The Bride & the Bottle Rack
It might be a good idea at this point to describe the Large Glass a bit further. It consists of two panes of glass, about nine feet tall and five and a half feet wide, partitioned into two fairly equal spaces. The upper space is the chamber of the Bride, the lower space the domain of the Bride's Bachelors. This space is shared by nine "malic" figures, a large chocolate grinder and what appear to be some pieces of optical apparatus. The notes provide an imperfect guide to the Bride's components. In Henderson's number diagram of the Bride, #10 identifies the "probable location of 'Reservoir of love gasoline'" and #8 the "General Area of 'Desire Magneto.'" These are Duchamp's terms--like "Sex cylinder" or "Desire gear"--and hardly exhibit gynecological exactitude. They are rather intended to get us to see the Bride as some kind of eroticized machine. Small wonder, then, that the Glass "must be accompanied by a text of literature, as amorphous as possible, which never takes form." And small wonder that the anatomy of the Bride, like that of the Glass itself, is likely to remain forever unachievable.
I am greatly interested in Henderson's observation that in connection with the Glass, Duchamp was "to find a model for a depersonalized expression, free of 'taste,' in the techniques of mechanical drawing or scientific illustration." But freedom from taste, hence freedom from hand and eye, was the basis for the ready-mades. "I wanted to be intelligent," Duchamp said. He wanted to discover how one can be intelligent and an artist at the same time. (The French have an expression, bête comme un peintre). "I wanted to go back to a completely dry drawing, a dry conception of art.... And the mechanical drawing was for me the best form of that dry conception of art.... A mechanical drawing has no taste in it." That might explain his decision to draw with lead wire. There is nothing to appreciate, as there is in brush or pencil lines. Large Glass, in Duchamp's own words, is the "renunciation of all aesthetics." Since this is precisely the case with the ready-mades, both exemplify a new kind of art, a new conception of the artist and a new kind of responsibility on the part of the viewer.
The overall importance of seeing the Glass and the ready-mades as alternative ways of making the same general point in regard to the relationship between art and aesthetics is that we have to think of Duchamp systematically. Lately a considerable stir has been made about the ready-madeness of the (so-called) ready-mades. That is not a controversy I am eager to enter. But if the connection between the ready-mades and the Large Glass is as systematic as Henderson's exposition suggests, we have to think of his work as a unified whole, each part supporting the rest, so that we cannot finally think of the Bride and, say, the bottle rack as entirely separate conceptions.
There is an uncanny relationship between the handlessness Duchamp sought in his art and a very old conception of what makes images genuine. The art historian Hans Belting has written a great book, Likeness and Presence, on the images worshiped in the period between the end of the Roman Empire and the beginning of the Renaissance. It was important that the images not be the product of an artist's hand. Thus, Christ's face was miraculously imprinted on the veil of Saint Veronica. The Virgin and Child allegedly painted by Saint Luke in fact materialized magically on a panel because Luke was not that good a painter. If it were definitely discovered that the Shroud of Turin was in fact done by an artist, it would become a mere work of art and lose significance as a devotional image. When looking at and admiring images--aesthetics, in short--became the point of art in the Renaissance, the age of the devotional image was all but over. The artist became a more and more exalted being. In erasing the relevance of hand and eye, Duchamp was attempting to deconstruct the idea of the artist and replace it with something more technological and impersonal. But, as Jean-Jacques Lebel recently reminded me, "Marcel was after all a chess player. He set traps within traps within traps." My advice is to enter the jungle of the Notes only if you are confident of finding your way out.
This essay has been stimulated by a book rather than an exhibition. But the Large Glass is on permanent view in the Arensberg Collection at the Philadelphia Museum of Art, where it is surrounded by the ready-mades. It is worth a pilgrimage. While you stand in front of the Glass, trying to remember which is the Sex cylinder and which the Reservoir of love gasoline, you are certain to hear whoops and shrieks nearby. They come from visitors unable to resist looking through the peepholes at Etant donnés, a work Duchamp secretly devoted himself to for the last twenty-five years of his life, pretending that he had given up art in favor of chess. As an incentive to your visit, I won't disclose what meets the eye, but, as a hint, it will not be all that different from what those with lewd imaginations hoped that X-rays would expose. For all the complexity of his philosophy, Duchamp also had a one-track mind.