The Exiles of Marcel Duchamp Hardcover – 29 May 2007
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About the Author
T. J. Demos is a Lecturer in the Department of History of Art, University College London and the author of The Exiles of Marcel Duchamp (MIT Press, 2007). His essays have appeared in such journals as Artforum, Grey Room, October, and Texte zur Kunst.
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(There must be a connection between the conceit of "received wisdom" and the Duchampian "readymade" lurking under the surface, but I haven't worked it all out yet. My dad it was who pointed out to me that if one used Duchamp's famous "Fountain" piece as a urinal one would come a cropper, and the moral was, one must lay on one's side, one knee lifted toward's one chest, if one hopes to avoid the gleeful, sardonic, sorrowful goose of the master.
Anyhow, Demos explores at great length the aesthetic and socio political strategies that lurk behind the creation of Duchamp's "portable museum," the "dick-in-a-box" precursor subsequently developed by Justin Timberlake, our own great appropriator. Not only the nomadism of the 20th century, but a resistance to Fascist and Nazi ideology, lay behind this work. I have never seen critical attention of much worth paid to Duchamp's participation in the 1938 Surrealism Exposition, but it's fascinating to see it read as Duchamp's saying no to a raft of opposing and delimiting political positions. The readymade, slick, new and shiny, was hereafter to be rendered made "dirty," to use one of Demos' key words; no steel shovel now, but a forest of burlap and cotton sacks still filthy from having had coal in them (the way the bad child might find coal in his stocking in USA Christmas customs of the first half of the 20th century)--real coal, and real coal dust choking the air like our modern sterile office suddenly made all Hogwarts when the temp drops the open tube of toner at the Xerox machine. Demos considers the ways in which Duchamp's suitcase served to accelerate existing trends within the art world towards miniaturization and compression, again, when you're on the run you want to gather no moss, only your diamonds. An admirable openness to phenomena of all types characterizes Demos' bold, yet careful analyses. He sees what I imagine might be the big picture, some of the air in which our hero walked, something of the troubled sleep he longed to escape from.