“‘Today there is no shocking. The only thing shocking is “no shocking”. Shocking has been one of the main themes of modern art, its baggage. Something that would shock me? Well, Russian painting. Those young girls at the window like in 1880, or Hitler in his bunker. It’s a diminished shock, but still a shock. Pop artists are not shocking because the public is always expecting another movement. They see it and they say: ‘What’s next?’ A movement should really last at least twenty years. The only movement that seems to last for any time is Surrealism, but that’s because it is not essentially a painters’ movement.
‘Movement; modern—they’re new words. Rather silly. Think of Art Nouveau, how old it seems. The word “artist”, for instance. Until the French Revolution it hardly existed from a social point of view. There were artisans. Now the artists are integrated. They are commercialized. Too commercialized. It wasn’t that way in the days of the kings. (Don’t make me into a monarchist!) Such a levelling as we have now may not engender many geniuses.’
What, I asked, does he mean when he sometimes refers to ‘bad art’ and ‘good art’?
‘There is bad art, only people forget it if they can. It’s art anyway. The St Sulpice images, for instance. Or Tanagras : the Tanagras were bad Greek art that are now worth a lot. Generally it’s bad art that becomes good. The simplest thing is to take a thing disliked and rehabilitate it. A group of four or five men can do this very easily. Part of the shock of a new movement is just that.’ [Marcel Duchamp in conversation with Dore Ashton]
CT: Do you think the diffuse idea that doing art is simple?
Marcel Duchamp: No, it’s not easier than before to do art, it’s because there are more galleries. But also a lot more competition.
CT: And in your opinion, all this new artistic activity is not a positive signal?
Marcel Duchamp: Yes, if we look at it from a social point of view. But aesthetically, it seems very damaging.In my opinion, such abundant production can only generate mediocrity. There is no time to do really beautiful works. This is what I call the integration of the artist into society.
This means that the artist has acquired a status equivalent to that of the lawyer, the doctor. Fifty years ago, we were outcasts. The parents of a girl would never have consented to marry him an artist.
CT: But did you like to be seen as an outcast?
Marcel Duchamp: Oh yes, of course, it is not very convenient but at least you have the sensation of realizing something different and unusual, which will remain for centuries after your death.
CT: So, do you disapprove of the fact that the artist integrates into society?
Marcel Duchamp: On the one hand, it is a very pleasant thing because there is the possibility of making a living with art. But it is deleterious from the point of view of the quality of the work provided.
I am of the opinion that important things must be done slowly. I do not believe in speed and that’s what happens with integration. I do not believe in speed, speed, concepts now introduced into art, to be able to do it quickly. “The faster, the better,” they say.
CT: You said that your work helped to create this phenomenon that you just described. The creation of ready-made for example …
Marcel Duchamp: But when I realized things like these, it was not with the idea of producing thousands. The goal was to evade the capacity for exchange, monetization so to speak of the work of art.
I never intended to sell my ready-made. It was a gesture to show that something could be done without the thought of making money. In fact I never sold them. I never even exposed them. Nobody has ever seen them until about twenty years ago.
When I showed them at the Galerie Bourgeois in 1916, Bourgeois did me a favor to include them in the exhibition, as an ironic thing (on his part, not mine).
If I am responsible for what happens today, I am responsible for it to a certain extent, not entirely. [Marcel Duchamp in conversation with Calvin Tomkins]
Tell me something about your urinal which you sent to the Independents Exhibition, signed R. Mutt?
That was a bit of an exception, as it was sent to the first Independents Exhibition in New York and, as is the case with all the Independents Exhibitions, there was no hanging committee. The whole point of the Independents Exhibition was to enable artists to satisfy their need to exhibit without having to submit their work to a hanging committee. So I sent that piece under the impression that there would be no problem having it accepted and that afterwards we would see how the public reacted to it. But the organisers, or the hanging committee, decided against exhibiting it. It was too shocking, I suppose, even though it was not obscene or pornographic, or even erotic. As the organisers couldn’t find any reason to suppress it or reject it, they dumped the piece behind screens where it could no longer be seen and we lost sight of it for the whole exhibition. We didn’t know where it was and it was only at the end of the exhibition, when everything was being dismantled, that we found the piece hidden away and realised what had happened.
What is more, I was on the organising committee, so I resigned and I never again exhibited at the Independents Exhibition.
And what about the ready-mades you created afterwards?
Basically, they grew out of a thought process which was perhaps a little too logical, but logical all the same, relating to works made with your hands: you can cut off the artist’s hands and still end up with something that is a product of the artist’s choice since, on the whole, when an artist paints using a palette he is choosing the colours. So choice is the crucial factor in a work of art. Paintings, colours, forms, even ideas are an expression of the artist’s choice. So you can take this even further if you want, by saying: why go to the trouble of using your hands at all? So the idea of making something that is not physically created by the artist, that simply stems from choices he has made, that is, something already created like the ready-mades, was valid—personally speaking, at any rate. But remember, I definitely do not want to create a school of the ready-made; far from it. [Marcel Duchamp in conversation with Jean Antoine]