Left: Duchamp’s ‘The Bride’, 1912; right: ‘Fountain’
Published: 18 January, 2013
by ANDREW JOHNSON
MOST people associate Marcel Duchamp with a urinal which he famously – or infamously – described as art in 1917, naming it “Fountain”. So you can blame him if you think modern art is rubbish.
His influence on the course of Western art and culture can’t be so easily dismissed, however.
In fact, like it or not, he’s one of the century’s most important figures, moving through Dadaism and Surrealism before giving all up to devote his life to chess. Born in 1887, his life spanned the momentous break in artistic tradition in the late 19th century and continued its revolutionary path until his death in 1968.
The Barbican is going Duchamp crazy between February and June. This week, it unveiled its Dancing around Duchamp season which will see exhibitions, dance, theatre, film and music events devoted to or inspired by the artist.
It opens on Valentine’s Day with a major exhibition called The Bride and the Bachelors, which it says is the first ever exhibition to examine Duchamp’s influence on four great modern artists – the composer John Cage, dancer and choreographer Merce Cunningham and the visual artists Robert Rauschenberg and Jasper Johns.
The exhibition will include 25 works by Duchamp and 30 by Rauschenberg and Johns. Pianist Eliza McCarthy will play Cage compositions on five afternoons and a series of Merce Cunningham dance events by London Contemporary Dance School students will take place on weekends and Thursday evenings. Renowned Rambert Dance company will also perform her work. A host of other live events are planned for the course of the exhibition from a one-off Cabaret Duchamp in March to chess sets popping up in the foyers and the cafe in Beech Street.
The season also brings in other key figures of the 20th-century avant garde, such as the writers Samuel Beckett and Eugene Ionesco. Ionesco’s absurdist play Rhinoceros will be given an outing and an adaptation of Beckett’s novel Watt will be performed in the art complex’s theatre.
There will also be a season of films in the Barbican’s three cinemas which explore themes associated with Duchamp and Dadaism, such as sexual identity, absurdity, anarchy and subversion.
• Dancing Around Duchamp: February 14-June 9 at The Barbican, Silk Street, EC2. The Bride and the Bachelors: Duchamp with Cage, Cunningham, Rauschenberg and Johns, February 14-June 9. 020 7638 4141, www.barbican.org.uk