- aka Marcel Duchamp: Meditations on the Identities of an Artist eds. by Anne Collins Goodyear and James W. McManus
aka Marcel Duchamp is a collection of essays that addresses issues of biography and identity by exploring the artistic, cultural, and historical conditions of Marcel Duchamp’s construction of artistic identity and the underlying theoretical and gender implications in his work. But putting this volume together presents no easy task, given Duchamp’s explicit denunciation of the autobiographical genre: “I flatly refuse to write an autobiography. It has always been a hobby of mine to object to the written, I, I, I’s on the part of the artist” (Gough-Cooper and Caumont). Duchamp’s refusal reflects an unwillingness to underwrite the “I” as supreme subject that would consolidate and aggrandize the myth of authorial identity instead of putting it into question. Situated within this contested sphere, editors Anne Collins Goodyear and James W. McManus have structured the volume around three major areas that cover the masking and disguise of artistic identity, the expansion of notions of artistic practice that challenge notions of authorship and the impact of Duchamp’s interventions on his friends/collaborators along with his legacies to future artists and critics. Grounded in extensive archival research and informed by diverse approaches based on cultural studies, this stimulating volume encourages reflection on Duchamp’s creative endeavors and artistic contributions.
The first part of the book is comprised of analyses of Duchamp’s incorporation of techniques of masking and disguise as a strategy designed not merely [End Page 835] to complicate identity visually but also to question its philosophical premises. Wendy Wick Reeves’s essay provides a useful artistic and cultural context by exploring the role of portraiture, its presentation and avant-garde experimental challenges to elucidate the “blooming” of Duchamp’s artistic alter ego, “Rrose Sélavy.” Duchamp’s “tonsure” or comet haircut leads James Housefield to a novel eco-critical exploration of the interplay of astronomy, fashion, and identity. His analysis helps illuminate Duchamp’s forays into the hairdressing business and the barber shop as a way of tossing barbs at art. Adrian Sudhalter takes a different tack by examining the interplay of French and American national identities implied in the construction of Rrose’s artistic aura, as evoked through her veiled incarnation as a feminine image and accessorized scent staged through Duchamp’s appropriation of an empty perfume bottle. Combining an insignia of French luxury with American consumerist impulses, this bottle comes to embody a new international ideal of the artist as a multinational and multigendered entity. David Hopkins reprises these questions of national identity and bodily expression through the evocative filter of mortality, bodily mortification, and the surrealist principle of liberty. He holds up an intriguing mirror to Given (Duchamp’s testamentary work exhibited posthumously) by suggesting that it functions both as a site of mourning for surrealism and also as one of redemption by perpetuating the life of its maker.
In the second part of the volume, Duchamp’s self-designation as “anartist” comes to the fore to elucidate his strategies for eluding artistic categorization by challenging conventional notions of artistic practice. Duchamp’s expansion of the artistic sphere through his extensive experiments with multidimensionalism and mirror reversals are the focus of Linda Dalrymple Henderson’s insightful analysis. Demonstrating Duchamp’s awareness of major shifts in early modernist mathematical and algebraic paradigms, she demonstrates their influence on Duchamp’s shifting artistic identities and career. Approaching Duchamp’s work through consideration of technical conservation, Scott Homolka, Beth A. Price, and Ken Sutherland scrutinize Duchamp’s strategies of replication by inquiring into the generative powers of the photographic medium both to reproduce and to displace the authority of painting. A progeny of his pictorial works, this generative move puts the idea of the copy on notice by reclaiming its productive and authorizing powers. Turning to the performative aspects of Duchamp’s works, Catherine Craft examines his claims to inactivity as a device...