Marcel Duchamp and the Art of Life
400 pp., 7 x 9 in, 59 color illus., 62 b&w illus.
- Published: November 19, 2019
- Publisher: The MIT Press
A groundbreaking reading of Duchamp's work as informed by Asian “esoterism, ” energetic spiritual practices identifying creative energy with the erotic impulse.
Considered by many to be the most important artist of the twentieth century, the object of intensive critical scrutiny and extensive theorizing, Marcel Duchamp remains an enigma. He may be the most intellectual artist of all time; and yet, toward the end of his life, he said, “If you wish, my art would be that of living: each second, each breath is a work which is inscribed nowhere, which is neither visual or cerebral.” In Marcel Duchamp and the Art of Life, Jacquelynn Baas offers a groundbreaking new reading of Duchamp, arguing in particular that his work may have been informed by Asian “esoterism, ” energetic spiritual practices that identify creative energy with the erotic impulse.
Duchamp drew on a wide range of sources for his art, from science and mathematics to alchemy. Largely overlooked, until now, have been Asian spiritual practices, including Indo-Tibetan tantra. Baas presents evidence that Duchamp's version of artistic realization was grounded in a western interpretation of Asian mind training and body energetics designed to transform erotic energy into mental and spiritual liberation. She offers close readings of many Duchamp works, beginning and ending with his final work, the mysterious, shockingly explicit Étant donnés: 1° la chute d'eau 2° le gaz d'éclairage, (Given: 1. The Waterfall, 2. The Illuminating Gas).
Generously illustrated, with many images in color, Marcel Duchamp and the Art of Life speculates that Duchamp viewed art making as part of an esoteric continuum grounded in Eros. It asks us to unlearn what we think we know, about both art and life, in order to be open to experience.
Duchamp's career was built upon creating strategies for making it difficult to know what his work was about; and he succeeded so well that he fueled an enormous literature determined to decipher it. Nonetheless, as Jacquelynn Baas stunningly demonstrates in a book full of surprises, a whole area of nourishment of his art has been overlooked. Her Duchamp is a new and unfamiliar one—still mysterious, but more vividly, humanly accessible.
John Elderfield, Chief Curator Emeritus of Painting and Sculpture, The Museum of Modern Art, New York