[Spoiler alert: If you plan to visit this show in Rome, you should go before you read this post. There are lots of pictures that will give away some of the delight and surprise you could experience in person.]
Last Friday I visited a recently opened exhibition at the National Gallery of Modern Art here in Rome, also known as GNAM, which happily means “yum” in Italian.
This was the first time I had ever seen any works by Marcel Duchamp, a French-American artist associated with Cubism, Dadaism and Surrealism. I have recently been introduced to the world of surrealist and conceptual art by the talented poet Enrique Enriquez, a mentor of mine who I am grateful to for the introduction into this marvelous world. This show was assigned to me as “homework.”
I had very superficial awareness of someone, somewhere, at sometime in the past, having signed a urinal and called it artwork. That was pretty much far as my knowledge went. It seemed absurd. And yet therein lies the beauty of surrealism.
I won’t go into educating about Duchamp because I’m certainly not the right person for that. But I do highly encourage you to delve more into his life and work: Wikipedia biography, The Metropolitan Museum of Art’s Heilbrunn Timeline of Art History, Marcel Duchamp World Community site, Making Sense of Marcel Duchamp site.
So, without too much preamble, let me take you on a bit of a photo tour of the exhibition. There weren’t any signs saying that photos weren’t allowed, and the employees weren’t stopping anyone. So I had a bit of a fun free-for-all.
First, a few shots of the approach to the GNAM. The weather was barely holding out, as it’s been a bit of a rainy October this year.
I was totally unaware of Duchamp’s obsession with and talent for the game of chess. Here the text explains that Duchamp found the creative aspect of the game a way to escape the slavery of monotony, because it allowed for endless ways to produce new patterns, and that this aspect of the game was what attracted him the most and is also why chess permeates his artwork. It also says that starting in 1923 and for 12 years thereafter, Duchamp abandoned his artwork completely in order to dedicate himself to chess, playing in many professional tournaments.
This, then, was the first readymade of the show. I fell in love with it at first sight. This one is Pocket Chess Set. The one on display is the original with wallet from 1943.
I took this shot just for EE. When I first began studying the optical language of the Marseille Tarot, I would tease EE about the images, just for fun. I told him that the monks on the card “Le Pape” looked like they had donuts on their heads. He promptly emailed me back to correct me by saying “Shelley, those are called tonsures.” Oh, tonsure-shmonsure. Look at MD’s star-shaped tonsure! Fabulous. This one is, in fact, called simply Tonsure, and is from 1919.
By far, one of my favorite works on display in the show. This is Box in a Valise, and is basically a miniature Duchamp museum, with exact miniature replicas of his various pieces. Totally compelling. I invite you to note the mini-Fountain hanging on the wall.
Before the room where most of the readymades were on display, there was a larger open space with works by Italian artist Luca Maria Patella. It’s difficult to find much in English about Patella, but here’s an interview in Italian by art critic Manuela De Leonardis. I absolutely fell in love with his work.
This work by Patella is called MUT/TUM, and is described on Patella’s site thus: MUT/TUM , (1965)-1985.
A “para-Duchampian” work that “shows and displays itself” (mostra e di-mostra) as MUTT, turned over “physically” in 1917 (The Fountain), was … turned over “linguistically” in 1918 (Tu m’). (in the perpendicular square in the center: a pair of mirrors – side by side – are perceived as an empty space), graphic design, painting, iron, mirror, 70 x 140 cm.
I enjoyed this one a lot. In the large open space, you find this disk on the floor, that says “STAND HERE. Look at the bed.” It also gives height markers running from 170 cm on the top to 180 cm on the bottom of the disk, indicating where you should stand depending on your height. So, I did as told, and this is what I saw standing on the dot. (I actually saw them perfectly lined up, but was unable to capture that exactly with my camera.)
And sort of–well, brilliant, too.
Personally, a part of me thinks that he should do some sort of installation at an IKEA store on the showroom floor. It would be awesome to then film people’s reactions, and pretend it was a real IKEA bed.
But hey, that’s just me.
And, the moment you’ve all been waiting for! The pisser! Funny aside: while standing in front of this display, I was the only one in the room. I had this irresistible urge to look underneath the typewriter cover.
So, I bent down, and sort of moved my head sideways—and all of a sudden that “you’re getting too close!” alarm went off. “WEE-UUU WEE-UUU WEE-UUU! Violator over here!” pretty much blasted through the entire cavernous and church-silent museum space.
HA! I had to laugh. It’s almost as if that was a pre-programmed part of the fun of the show itself. It was like an auditory reminder: “Good for you, Shell! Don’t take yourself so seriously in life!”
Why, thank you for that helpful reminder, Monsieur Duchamp. Much obliged, indeed.
All in all, a completely delightful experience.
Galleria Nazionale di Arte Moderna
Viale delle Belle Arti 131
Click here for details about the Duchamp: Re-Made in Italy show