MIAMI - Shocking! That’s what fairgoers said of Marcel Duchamp’s Nude Descending A Staircase (No. 2) in 1913 at the then-infamous, now-landmark Armory Show in New York City. Duchamp had the unmitigated gall to completely break down the picture plane in the direction of abstraction – his “nude” was all but unrecognizable – and it was memorably described by the august New York Times as “an explosion in a shingle factory.” (That was not meant as a compliment.) He was, of course, right on schedule in terms of formal movements in art, since Cubism and Futurism were well under way by that time.
We’re nearing the 100th anniversary of the exhibition, and as I wing my way down to Miami for Art Basel Miami Beach, it’s worth noting that New York’s Michael Rosenfeld Gallery is offering in its booth a slightly later version of Duchamp’s Nude, a graphite, ink and gouache treatment of a photograph of the notorious original, all mounted on plywood. Not only was the artist ahead of the game in terms of style, this 1915 riff seems to anticipate the self-referential seriality that later artists have explored.
Marcel Duchamp’s Nu Descendant un Escalier from 1915 bears close resemblance to the then-shocking version debuted at the Armory show in 1913. Courtesy of Michael Rosenfeld Gallery LLC, New York, NY.
It also makes me wonder if I’ll see anything truly shocking at tomorrow morning’s ABMB press preview. I tend to doubt it, partly because we have been treated to every sexual act, body part and social taboo–busting scenario in art in the years since Duchamp’s Nude. But it’s worth remembering that the scandal came from his formal daring, not from anything he actually depicted. With technology advancing so quickly on all fronts, our next big shock may yet again come from how an artwork delivers its message, as opposed to what’s in it.
Beginning tomorrow and throughout the week you’ll see more posts from me here about Miami madness.