Yet despite his apparent disdain for traditional pictures, Duchamp was first and foremost a painter. Drawing on his early experiences with caricatures, most of the erotic variety, Duchamp began to experiment with the ideas of "looking" - looking through, looking at, voyeurism, deconstructing the image - and the relationship of text and image. His exposure to works by the Old Masters, Impressionists, Symbolists and Fauves are all reflected in his early paintings which led, rather naturally when one sees the progression, to his Cubist masterpiece exhibited at the Armory Show of 1913 "Nude Descending a Staircase".
"A Propos de jeune sœur", 1911
"Nu descendant un escalier nº 2", 1912
Perhaps because of the less than enthusiastic reception of "Nude Descending a Staircase" at the 1911 Salon des Indépendants (although the reaction was more positive in New York), Duchamp all but abandoned painting and turned his focus to "Ready-mades" an invention that became his most famous contribution to Modern Art. "Ready-mades" were basically off-the-shelf or minimally altered items, such as a snow shovel or a bottle rack, that were designated "works of art" by Duchamp. The most famous of these is "Fountain" a white porcelain urinal, set on its back, signed "Mutt" and dated "1917", that was his contribution to that year's Salon des Indépendants. It was a gesture applauded by he Dadaists but rejected by the Salon and has become one of the most iconic "statues" of the 20th Century. Unfortunately "Fountain" was not included in this exhibition but there were other examples of Duchamp's "Ready-mades" some made in Paris and some from the time he spent in New York City and Ridgefield, NJ, during World War I.
Duchamp purposefully left "The Large Glass" unfinished and it was long thought to be his final major creation. He went on to pursue adjunct projects including film making, building machines, playing chess and jeu de mots. He perhaps had the last laugh with the 1964 reproductions of his Ready-mades, most of which had been lost or destroyed, giving a whole new meaning to "original" art.
I have sat in on many discussions among Duchamp scholars dissecting the meaning of this image or that choice of word, and most of the time I'm lost. But this exhibition "La Peinture, même" did give me a new insight and perspective into the master's work and I left with a greater appreciation for "the picture that endeavors to capture what eludes the retina...the final picture"