Unreal Nature

June 5, 2017

Point of No Return

Filed under: Uncategorized — unrealnature @ 5:45 am

… where does painting start, what is its raw matter?

This is from Pictorial Nominalism: On Marcel Duchamp’s Passage from Painting to the Readymade by Thierry de Duve (1991):

Virgin, the virgin canvas, the point of departure for the painter and the initial site in which his desire and his anguish are invested. How to become a painter, how to begin the painting? This was a crucial question for Duchamp, much more important than the completion of the painting. The Large Glass, Definitively Unfinished shows Duchamp’s lack of anxiety over the final decision, which, in contrast, was the major decision for all the “retinal” painters and, especially, for the American Abstract Expressionists.

[line break added] All art that comes from expression naturally privileges suspension, the achievement of inachievement, because it is in this pictorial moment that the artist tries to immobilize the spectators and to hold them within the fascination of an expressiveness that sums up the artist’s “inner self.” Duchamp, who did not believe in expression or in the distinction of interior and exterior (the Glass is transparent), knew that the final decision is relatively irrelevant: in any case, it is the onlooker who finishes the painting. In contrast, the initial decision was a moment of high importance, especially if one were convinced, like Duchamp, that the colors of the painting derive above all else from the painter’s “gray matter.”

[line break added] To worry about the ways to start a painting is to pose a double general question about a singular case. The first concerns the identity of the object that one is trying to construct: where does painting start, what is its raw matter? The second (but it is really the same question) concerns the identity of the painting subject: what is the first gesture a painter makes, and where and when does the painting begin to validate its creator’s ambition to be a painter?

… In 1912, there was no painter (not even Matisse) destined to play a significant role in the history of modern art who was not extremely aware of [the] necessity for aesthetic innovation. The Futurists would make an ideology out of this, confusing the specific irreversibility of art with a lyrical — and dubious, by the way — notion of technological progress.

[line break added] Soon, Dada itself would be able to mark its radical opposition to Futurism only by simultaneously refusing any projection into the future and any return to the past, entertaining instead the fantasy — itself at once aesthetic and historical — that it could put an end to the history of art. And when art historians came to gather under a single term all the avant-gardes that came out of Cubism — Futurism, Constructivism, Suprematism, Simultaneism, Orphism, Neoplasticism, Dadaism, Unism, and so on — they coined a tautological term: the “historical avant-gardes.”

The Passage from the Virgin to the Bride declares in the clearest possible way the feeling of irreversibility that gripped Duchamp’s practice in August 1912. Duchamp was aware that if his becoming-painter was to have some historical resonance, it had to forbid retreat. The move beyond Cubism reached its point of no return here: the painter that Duchamp wanted to become would have to find his identity ahead of himself, like the “headlight child,” this “comet which would have its tail in front.”

The Passage from the Virgin to the Bride, 1912

My most recent previous post from de Duve’s book is here.




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