My friend, Marcel

Everything about Brancusci and Duchamp and their amazing Bird in Space

Marcel Duchamp… where to start? A very complex and complicated show that I saw yesterday at the Barbican Center, London about Duchamp and his influence over Rauschenberg, Johns, Cage and Cunningham left me brain fried. It seems like the curators tried to make connections and draw conclusions where there might not be any, and that was just exhausting to see. The show was scattered over two floors with pianos playing, ghost dancers dancing, and just too much going on. But it got me thinking about my friend, Marcel. He is considered the most influential artist of the 20th century (not Picasso) and for some reason, I think of him more like a whacky scientist than an artist. Maybe that’s just because he was in everyone’s business introducing people to one another, revolutionizing, criticizing and influencing his contemporaries unknowingly. He knew everyone and he played a key part in so many historical twisted events. I’ll explain a few; don’t get your panties in a bundle.

For starters, Peggy Guggenheim who would become one of “the most active benefactors of pioneer painters” moved to Paris in the 20s where she was introduced to the new wave of avant-garde artists such as Max Ernst and Joan Miro by the hand of none other than Duchamp. He was also very involved in the gallery that she opened in London during the late thirties but was forced to shut down less than a year later because she was her best client. She was buying everything for herself, for the collection that now stands along the Grand Canal in Venice. Similarly, Julien Levy, a crucial dealer that played a major role in the introduction of European and Latin American Surrealist artists in the early thirties in New York such as Frida Kahlo and Man Ray, lived in Paris for three years before opening his gallery in Manhattan’s Upper East side. Guess who was his personal tour guide? Duchamp, Duchamp, Duchamp!!!

On a different note, and a very interesting one if I may say so, I’m going to tell you a story. Brancusi’s fabulous Bird in Space, the golden bullet-like sculpture located at the MoMa in New York was part of an edition of nine bronze casts and seven marbles created in 1923. An American collector called Edward Steichem bought one of the bronzes in 1926 in France and he asked the artist to mail it to the United States.

“Sure”, said Brancusi, “coincidentally, a very good friend of mine, Marcel Duchamp, is traveling to the States so I’ll just send it with him”.

“Cool”, said Steichem.

So off goes Duchamp with Bird in Space tightly squeezed into his suitcase. He wasn’t hiding it. His luggage was inspected upon arrival by the customs officers; when they saw the sculpture they confiscated it because they said that he was importing metal illegally and there was something around a  25% tax that he had to pay on the price of bronze.

“No!” said Duchamp, “this is art, not metal” – a very different way of looking at the object.

Long story short, since Duchamp and Brancusi didn’t have the money to take the matter to court and prove that Bird in Space was in fact art, Dorothy Whitney (who would later found the Whitney Foundation)  gave them the money for the trial and Brancusi won! End of story.

Brancusi, Duchamp and Mary Reynolds at the south of France.

Duchamp was the first person that made us question the nature of art itself when he coined the term ‘readymade’ in 1915 – a mass-produced object that he selected and presented as a work of art. Are the names Warhol, Koons, Claes Oldenberg and Hirst amongst many others, coming to mind? They should be because their work is a major reflection of Duchamp’s influence. His rejection of modernist painting and traditional painting techniques moved art out of the canvas into every day objects. His justification was that “the creative act happens when the spectator sees it and has a reaction to it”.

Art is art, even if it’s bad.

Any thoughts?

Replica of "Fountain" originally from 1917, now 1964, by Marcel Duchamp.
Replica of “Fountain” originally from 1917, now 1964, by Marcel Duchamp.
"Bird in Space" by Constantin Brancusi from 1923. IMG: MoMa.
“Bird in Space” by Constantin Brancusi from 1923. IMG: MoMa.

Written by Andrea Wild Botero. All rights reserved.

17 comments on “My friend, Marcel

  1. Mi Andre
    Estoy feliz recibiendo tu blog, mil gracias.
    Te quiero mucho,

    Enviado desde mi oficina móvil BlackBerry® de Telcel

  2. Thanks for the tour… What other connections to modern acolytes fell flat?

  3. I have always founf MD to be a very interesting artist, he made me realize the importance of an object not for its material value but because of its significance to the human language. Like Andy Warhole one said: no matter if the art work is bad, if you bombard the public with it they will love it.

    • That’s just how I feel about Duchamp as well. I think that people that don’t understand conceptual art or sometimes even contemporary, forget this. He wasn’t really artist, he only did a few things. He was a chess lover!

      Thank you for commenting.

  4. Eduardo Villaquirán

    Muy interesante su blog, Andrea. Además, cumple con creces la promesa de entretenernos. We want more 🙂 Un saludo desde Amsterdam.

    • Biennn!! Con estos buenos comentarios claro que seguire escribiendo. Mil gracias por leerlo! Ahora me siento un poco presionada… jajaja, no mentiras.


  5. Andrea he escuchado ahora msmo la entrevista en la W, y estuviste fantastica, me ha sorprendido de forma muy positiva saber que una joven como tú, habla y se expresa de manera tan suelta y segura con todo lo relacionado al arte. MIs respetos y un abrazo. Henry.

    • Hola Henry,

      Mil mil gracias por tu comentario y por escucharme. Mi pasion es el arte como ves asi que es un tema del que podria hablar todo el dia. Espero nunca dejar de aprender.

      Una vez mas, muchisimas gracias! Me puso muy feliz tu comentario.

  6. Me gusta tu blog Andrea! Tengo una foto en mi pared de Marcel y una mujer desnuda jugando ajedrez…siempre he amado las historias sobre él y tuyo es fabuloso, gracias 🙂

    • Hola Aileen,

      Que bueno que te gusto el post! Duchamp estaba en todo. Sabias que ademas el fue el que le puso “mobiles” a las esculturas de Calder?! Que tal!

      Gracias por tu comentario!

  7. My brother suggested I might like this website. He was totally right.
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    time I had spent for this info! Thanks!

    • I’m sooo glad it helped you! Don’t be a stranger then, come back and read a little more… Hopefully inspiration will come to come today, or some time this week and I’ll post something new.
      If I can help you with any other ‘anecdotes’ let me know!

      Thanks for reading!

    • I’m so glad you enjoyed the post! I’m sorry it took me a while to get back to your comment, I’ve had soooo much work that I haven’t even had time to post anything new. If there’s anything that I can ever help you with, please let me know!

  8. Pingback: About me – The Bird in Space

  9. Evaristo Leopoldo Camargo-Rodas

    Leyendote es como si estuviera escuchando.Toda mi atencion esta concentrada cada palabra que va sonando,diciendo cuanto dices,y vaya que lo dices.Ni por un instante ,ni fraccion mi escucha y entendimiento escapan a tu parla.Simultaneamente con la asimilacion de tus ideas me da margen,sin perder de vista tus planteamientos,para imaginar de donde viene ,donde se formaron,como,en que contexto,cuales son las riquisimas raices ancestrales-geneticas,ADN,genoma
    y todo eso..tan brillantes como frescas,innovadoras visiones sobre Brancusi,Duchamp que desde luego se solo son el detonante oportuno que desencadena esa catarata de ,permiteme el termino,de hermosisimos planteamientos que ademas en mi caso me hacen sentir muy afortunado y privilegiado por los dioses al haberme otorgado el don de empatia,cercania,afinidad…devocio,-prestame el termino-por y hacia el Arte.Se me ocurre sugerir una posible respuesta.La Familia.Que bueno que
    en ti,por favor no creas nunca que es una carga pesada como acaece en otros casos que se sienten abrumados por el peso de las genialidades familiares,no solo se compendia bellamente toda una genial tradicion familiar sino que,este sobrado-es un termino barranquillero para indicar fuera de serie-blog es una muestra,eres una dignisima heredera de los atributos que enaltecieron a tus ancestros lejanos y cercanos y aun mas otro Don agraciado por las excelsitudes del Arte.
    Quedo,tu atento,seguro,servidor
    Evaristo Leopoldo Camargo-Rodas
    Periodista Cultural-Critico de Arte
    Celular 3128842333

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