I. Trap of Duchamp
Every time I visit a contemporary art exhibition, I cannot help saying to myself, “Unsuccessful copies of Duchamp are everywhere. They are still caught in the trap of Duchamp”. Oftentimes, artistic and aesthetic values of contemporary works of art are hardly recognizable at a first glance. This is because these works exist for the purpose of prompting viewers to explore the meaning of art and beauty. In other words, works of contemporary art deal with the very basic question, “what is art?”. Needless to say, no other artists have questioned the nature of art more eloquently than Duchamp. Specifically, he so conclusively indicated that art is one form of institution through his pieces called “Readyrnades”, which include an ordinary urinal with his signature on it (“Fountain”). Under his influence, the practice of letting works of art explain itself, or creating self-referential works, has become a major trend among contemporary artists. As viewers wonder the artistic value of an object they are examining, they are inevitably entrapped by an endless loop of self-reference. Duchamp was fully aware that such active involvement would add artistic value to the object.
It should be also noted that Duchamp was an unrivaled chess player. Therefore, his works can be compared to chess problems; viewers are tempted to solve the problems and cast a contemplating look at his pieces, in place of moving chess pieces. But Duchamp invented a way never to lose chess games. Thus, once we are lured into his world, we are forced to play a game with no hope of winning.
- Masanao Katsumata is Associate Professor at Nagoya City University, Nagoya, Japan
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