Photograph by Constance Mensh, Philadelphia Museum of Art.

- There’s only one more week to see Dancing around the Bride: Cage, Cunningham, Johns, Rauschenberg, and Duchamp, on view at the Philadelphia Museum of Art through Jan 21. This is the kind of sharply focused, smartly themed show we really should see more of: It gets at something meaty, and across many media, without trying too hard. It’s a “group show” of sorts without the hazy quality those can have. And it gives us new views of some familiar artists in the pantheon.

Marcel Duchamp’s Bride, 1912, Philadelphia Museum of Art, The Louise and Walter Arensberg Collection, 1950. © 2012 Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York/ADAGP, Paris/Succession Marcel Duchamp.

The touchstone of the exhibition is the great Marcel Duchamp figure The Bride, the star of a 1912 painting of that name and then Philadelphia’s permanent collection masterpiece, The Bride Stripped Bare by Her Bachelors, Even (The Large Glass) (1915–23). Duchamp’s pioneering art is definitely on our minds this year, since we are arriving at the 100th anniversary of the Armory show, when he scandalized the world with Nude Descending a Staircase. (Every contemporary artist who tries to shock us owes him a debt; though I bet Marcel would just yawn at many of these attempts.)

Marcel Duchamp’s The Bride Stripped Bare by Her Bachelors, Even (The Large Glass), 1915-23. Philadelphia Museum of Art, Bequest of Katherine S. Dreier, 1952 © 2012 Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York/ ADAGP, Paris/Succession Marcel Duchamp.

Rauschenberg and Johns traveled together to the PMA to see the Large Glass in the 1950s, a mission that helped set them on a daring course for the rest of their careers. The fascinating thing is that these younger artists got to know Duchamp, and in some cases collaborate with him. Some of the works in the show are direct homages: Rauschenberg’s huge “combine” Wager, 1957–59, incorporates quotes from the older master. In the dance Walkaround Time (1968), Cunningham and Johns directly referenced the Bride, with Johns doing the sets and consulting Duchamp on the design.

Merce Cunningham in Walkaround Time, 1968. Choreography by Merce Cunningham, Stage set and costumes by Jasper Johns. Photograph © 1972 by James Klosty.

But these artists never stopped at just nodding to someone else’s work – they were always true to themselves, pushing their own ideas forward and making history along the way. The primary inspiration that Duchamp provided was his embrace of chance and fate in his work, and his willingness to take enormous risks. The experimental spirit is amply on display in this show, and in the smart catalog (sized and shaped like a regular hardcover book and not a coffee table tome) that I would recommend to anyone who misses the exhibition.

Photograph by Constance Mensh, Philadelphia Museum of Art.