Duchamp, Man Ray, Picabia
21 February – 26 May 2008
Duchamp set himself the challenge of making art works
that were not works of art, as traditionally understood.
He decided that an art work did not need to be either
visually appealing or even made by the artist. Accordingly,
he chose a number of ‘readymade’ objects, of no
aesthetic merit, and gave them the usual attributes of a
work of art: a title, a named author, a date of execution,
and a viewing public or owner. His Fountain – an ordinary
urinal laid on its back – was rejected from an exhibition
in 1917. This, and more importantly, the ensuing debate
about what constitutes a work of art, is now seen as
a turning point in the history of modernism.
Rather than readymades, Man Ray produced what he called
‘objects of my affection’: two or more elements combined
to create a new work. He also used his camera to record
transient or ephemeral items that caught his eye. Here it
was the photograph that was the work of art, rather than
the object itself.
Marcel Duchamp, Man Ray and Francis Picabia were at the cutting edge of art in the first half of the twentieth century, and made a lasting impression on modern and contemporary art. Duchamp invented the concept of the ‘readymade’: presenting an everyday object as an artwork, Man Ray pioneered avant-garde photographic and film techniques and Picabia’s use of kitsch, popular or low-brow imagery in his paintings undermined artistic conventions.
Their shared outlook on life and art, with a taste for jokes, irony and the erotic, forged a friendship that provided support and inspiration. At the heart of the Dada movement and moving in the same artistic circles, they discussed ideas and collaborated, echoing and responding to each other’s works. Duchamp, Man Ray, Picabia explores their affinities and parallels, uncovering a shared approach to questioning the nature of art.