The Artist Stripped Bare

An engaging display of late Surrealist catalogues -- including one (Le Surrealisme en 1947) with a breast on the cover made by Duchamp A photographs by Duchamp's chess partner Man Ray, and four of Joseph Cornell's mystical assembled boxes shed light on the experimental territory forged by Duchamp and his contemporaries. But the crux of the exhibition lies in works created by the extended avant-garde group that lived in New York in the late Fifties and Sixties, many of whom (Johns, Cage) actually met Duchamp. In one room at the CFA, works by several of Cage's colleagues, members of the international Fluxus movement, are gathered. Fluxus founder George Maciunas's Venus de Milo Apron, a silkscreen of the classical statue on a vinyl apron, recalls both Duchamp's Mona Lisa and his Tablier de Blanchisseuse (Laundress' Apron) -- this latter work, also on display here, features two tiny potholder-size aprons, one with an appliqued cloth penis, the other with a fake-fur vagina. Daniel Spoerri's Eaten by Duchamp (Variations on a Meal, New York) consists of a used place setting glued to a wood panel.

An archetypal work from this period is Nam June Paik's TV Bra for Living Sculpture, two tiny video monitors attached to bra-like shoulder straps and worn in a 1969 performance by cellist Charlotte Moorman. Nearby are more contemporary works: David Ireland's Initial Machine, a mechanical sculpture with an eyelike sphere printed with the letters D and I that spins around; and Rebecca Horn's charming Oyster Piano, another mechanical sculpture (although inoperative here). In the same area visitors can view examples of Duchamp's own experiments with technology -- for instance, his Rotoreliefs (or optical discs), swirling designs on paper circles that spin around on three turntables in a glass case.

A row of display windows built into a wall in the center of the exhibition space holds an intriguing selection of artists' multiples from the Sixties to the present. Fluxus artist George Brecht's Water Yam is a plastic box filled with "scorecards" that have been printed with instructions such as "Turn on a radio. At the first sound turn it off." Several of Ed Ruscha's photo books from the Seventies are also included, their subject matter explained by their titles: Some Los Angeles Apartments, Nine Swimming Pools and a Broken Glass, et cetera. More recent artists' editions include a poignant ACT UP Art Box, which contains symbolic objects contributed by Mike Kelly, Ross Bleckner, Kiki Smith, and others.

Works by other contemporary artists appropriate Duchamp's readymades as revered icons, subverting their original castoff character. Hans Haacke dips a shovel in gold, after Duchamp's In Advance of the Broken Arm (also in the show), then breaks its handle. Sherrie Levine casts a Fountain in bronze. Photographic works by Cindy Sherman and Lorna Simpson question the confines of gender identity, a theme Duchamp explored when he created and dressed up as his alter ego, Rrose Selavy (the surname is a play on the French phrase "C'est la vie"), captured here in well-known photos by Man Ray.

"Duchamp's Leg" is extensive and a lot of the works are textual, requiring prolonged inspection; in truth, more than one visit is needed to take in everything. For a refreshing pause, enter a small room in the center of the exhibition that has been primarily devoted to Duchamp's From or by Marcel Duchamp or Rrose (Box in a Valise), a leather-covered suitcase that contains reproductions of the relatively small number of works the artist produced. Included are a perfume bottle, a model of an Underwood typewriter, and a tiny urinal.

Nearby a TV monitor plays an NBC interview with Duchamp, first broadcast in 1956, from a series called Conversations with Elderly Wise Men of Our Day. The artist, taking a tour of his works in the collection of the Philadelphia Museum of Art with then-Guggenheim Museum director James Johnson Sweeney, pulls out Box in a Valise and talks in a gentle -- if rather loud -- voice about his life and work. "Intellect is too dry a word," he says in response to one of Sweeney's remarks. "I like the word believing. I believe that art is the only form of activity in which man shows himself to be a true individual and goes beyond the animal state. To live is to believe, and that's my belief."

A most fortunate happenstance has brought another show, Neo-Dada: Redefining Art 1958-62, to the Art Museum at FIU at the same time as "Duchamp's Leg." Smaller, but equally impressive, this exhibition features works by many of the same pop and Fluxus artists featured in the CFA show, whose found objects, assemblages, performances, and happenings were collectively categorized as Neo-Dada. Organized by the American Federation of Arts, the show emphasizes the roots of these artists in the concepts of Duchamp, whose elegant readymade Bicycle Wheel stands at the gallery's entrance. ("Neo-Dada" also ties these works to the German Dadaist Kurt Schwitters. Curiously, a Schwitters collage was removed from the show for lack of space.)

Included in the show are essential works from the 1958-62 period, a time of freewheeling conceptual experimentation: An enormous pile of crumpled newspapers from one of Allan Kaprow's happenings has been placed in one corner of the gallery; a mechanical sculpture by Jean Tinguely (which, regrettably, does not function here for safety reasons) stands in the center of the space; also here is Robert Morris's Box with the Sound of Its Own Making, a small wooden box from which the noise of sawing and hammering emanates. Unfortunately gallery employees sometimes turn off this loud sculpture -- request that they turn it back on.

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