The Dreary Legacy of Marcel Duchamp

old ideas
old ideas

I just caught bits of The Culture Show on BBC 2. One bloke was interviewing another bloke as they sat on a large luxury motor yacht. It seems that one of them was working for the program and the other was an “artist”. The artist had a concept for an art work which was this luxury motor yacht with his name stamped on it and no other changes. The artist was a German named Christian Jankowski at this year’s Frieze Art Fair.

In fact the art work had not yet been created. First he intended to sell the concept to a punter and then the work would be created. The interviewer asked if he got any flack along the lines of anyone could do this and it’s not art. Yawn!

In 1917 Marcel Duchamp created a work of art entitled Fountain consisting of a urinal which had been signed by M. Duchamp. This, apparently, kicked off the discussion: Is it art? Who says what is art? If I am an artist then anything I created is art. The circular logic of such an argument etc etc.

M. Duchamp opened the door for nearly a century of boring and uninspired people to duck out of real creativity and spend their time climbing up their own arses.

It is true that the vast majority of the world’s population will not have heard of M. Duchamp and his exploits and it’s true that many popular newspapers will rant against such art. But for artist of today, to fall back on ideas that are nearly a century old as justification for their work woud be laughable if the media did not insist on treating the argument so seriously.

The type of artist who get off on this sort of piffle is the same sort of person who, were he a computer geek, would spend his time condescendingly boring all and sundry with details of the technical implantation of his latest box of chips.

Of course a luxury motor yacht is a work of art but it’s artistry is no more imbued by a supposed artist plonking his name on it than a Range Rover is by attaching the word Vogue or a Panasonic camera is by rebadging it as a Leica and marking it up £150.

These activities are not art they are mere marketing.

For a contemporary artist to make Duchamp’s ideas the centre piece for his work shows a pitiful lack of imagination and it is not surprising that many artists in this tradition appear so passionless and vague. In this evening’s Culture Show it became evident that many artists will never challenge an interpretation of their work. Apparently they want to leave the interpretation open. Here we run into yet another stock cliché of the contemporary art world: the idea that each person will have their own impression of an art work. Many artists have misinterpreted this as meaning that an artist should have no ideas or incites of his or her own. These seems to me to be the antithesis of an artist.

I listened to the first part of Mike Oldfield‘s Ommadawn this morning and it struck me that, without wanting to detract from Mr. Oldfield’s skill and achievements, his work was a product of it’s time. Technology had progressed to the point where musicians could afford recording studios in their own houses and this allowed Mr. Oldfield to create a work where he played all the instruments. When Tubular Bells was released in 1973 this was amazing yet today kids have more powerful studios in their bedrooms.

Technology enables art.

In the 80s the Western world became rich. Many of the newly rich had no knowledge of, and therefore no preconceptions and prejudices about, art.  Further, many were not really interested in art yet wanted the qudos that art provides. This left the way open for self appointed gate keepers such as Charles Saatchi to milk the rich while pursuing his passion for modern art.

Artists embraced this culture and began creating all sorts of stuff but I can’t help thinking that Damien Hirst‘s sharks were, really, no more that the product of new money looking for sensation. The money was there to pay for Hirst to turn his childhood hobby of fish taxidermy into a business. So he did.

None of this is to denigrate contemporary art. 90% of it may be shit but in the words of the late, and great, Theordore Sturgeon90% of everything is shit” and Mr. Saatchi has done the nation a huge service by presenting more than 10% of it at the fantastic Saatchi Gallery.

What I object to is lame and passionless artists, unable to think of new ideas and so falling back on the ideas of an artist who’s been dead for over forty years.

To be more explicit: Forget whether it’s art, is it any good?


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