This is the second part of my thoughts from the Modern Art Museum in Stockholm. The first part is here. This part probably won’t make much sense unless you read the first one.
My Art Academy friends always tell me how it’s all about ‘the concept’ of the artwork these days (i.e. they don’t only have to make an artwork but also explain the concept, the idea behind it), but until visiting the Picasso/Duchamp exhibition I never fully understood what that means. I love ‘art of ideas’! Even more so, because, again, it seems a lot like science to me.
However, one might argue, how can we know what was an artist’s original idea? If we don’t know the idea, there’s no point in the art. Maybe s/he didn’t think anything of it, at all. For instance, I rather think that it was the case with the bicycle wheel, which apparently was constructed as a distraction when Duchamp was upset after he was snubbed by a Cubist exhibition. But that doesn’t really matter, in my opinion. We can still look for meaning – that’s what humans do, don’t we? We can still see something that we wouldn’t see if we were just looking at a stool or a bicycle wheel. Maybe we can even (gasp!) see something inside ourselves.
Picasso, who apparently hated Duchamp’s un-art-like art, said that “Art washes away from the soul the dust of everyday life.” In my opinion, Duchamp takes that pretty much literally: he takes everyday objects and ‘washes the dust away’, he makes us look at a snow shovel hanging on a wall, for example, and not think of the annoying chore (the title “In advance of a broken arm” can give a few fun ideas). However, I think, the problem might be that he, and modern art in general, sometimes makes us work a little hard, so to speak. He doesn’t present us with anything like a beautiful romantic landscape. Looking at a urinal on a pile of bricks and calling it ‘Fountain’, it may seem that a clean soul isn’t very pretty at all. But that’s how it is, isn’t it? It’s not all pretty inside each of us, and modern art makes us look at it. Or not. No one makes us look at art, and even much less actually see anything in it.
That being said, Picasso’s works don’t really hold up to the ideals of beauty either, do they? Weirdly distorted faces and body parts angling in weird directions, and, in later works, just piles of square shapes called ‘A Guitar Player’ or something. However, I find the process of the Cubist painting delightfully scientific. The idea being that in order to represent a three-dimensional shape on a two-dimensional canvas, you have to be turning your object full circle as you paint it. But we see what sort of weirdness comes out of this – this is also interesting from a science point of view, when we discuss how the object of our research is changed upon the act of measuring its properties. Maybe all we get is just weird distorted projections?
And here I’m going to insert another Duchamp quote that I picked up at the exhibition just because I like it so much:
If a shadow is a two-dimensional projection of a three-dimensional world, then the three-dimensional world as we know it is a projection of the four-dimensional universe.
I’m going to stop here, and save my thoughts on Andy Warhol and some other works from the permanent exhibition for part three,