Dalia Judovitz


On her book Drawing on Art: Duchamp and Company

Cover Interview of May 05, 2010

The wide angle

Drawing on Art: Duchamp and Company builds on the implications of my earlier work in Unpacking Duchamp: Art in Transit (1995).  The focus is no longer on Duchamp alone but also on his Dada and Surrealist friends and sometime collaborators’ efforts to question the idea of art, creativity and authorship through their appeal to strategies of appropriation and collaboration.

The analysis proceeds along three major axes of inquiry.  The first, involves various challenges to the visual fate and manifestation of painting and art in response to the forces of commodification, which are dealt with through the elaboration of conceptual strategies.  The second seeks to redefine artistic creativity as a productive act that also entails spectatorship and hence notions of consumption.  And the third focuses on the fact that artistic collaboration—understood as exchange, interplay, and appropriation of ideas—becomes paradigmatic of a new way of thinking about artistic production as an inter-active and inter-subjective endeavor.

The deactivation of the visual mandate of art that emerged from Duchamp’s and his Dada friends’ critique of the commodity and market forces opened up the possibility of questioning art’s founding premises and its social and cultural manifestations in the public sphere.  Disillusioned with painting and art in general, Duchamp along with Picabia and Man Ray, and later with Dali, sought new strategies for challenging art’s vulnerability in the face of commercialization.

My book shows that while Duchamp with Man Ray, and later Dali, moved from the ocular to optics, seeking to activate a new understanding of the conceptual considerations that determine the production of visuality, Picabia along with Duchamp explored the potential of spectatorship as a force for taking on the pressures of consumption.  Their critique of painting as a visual experience was extended to the film medium—to short circuit through conceptual considerations film’s advent as visual spectacle.  For Duchamp and Dali, the game of chess became a privileged vehicle for figuring a new way of thinking about artistic making and authorship in the modality of play.

Another pivotal question I deal with is how artists inspire and influence each other in the production of new works.

rorotoko.com Enrico Baj. Homage to Marcel Duchamp. 1987. 55 x 46 cm. © Roberta Baj, 2008. (Image reproduced courtesy of Roberta Baj.)

The appropriation of Mona Lisa’s reproduction with the added mustache and goatee and its reissue under Duchamp’s signature transformed the passive spectator of Leonardo’s painting and/or consumer who purchased the painting’s reproduction into a producer who availed him or herself of a new way of making. Duchamp revealed the productive potential inherent in the spectator’s position as a consumer, thus undermining conventional artistic paradigms that privilege the act of the work’s production over its consumption.

I show that the idea that the onlooker also “makes” the work of art overturns the myth of artistic genius undermining the idea of art as individual expression. The invitation to partake in the creative process along with the author will implicate the spectator in a process of artistic making understood no longer in terms of self-expression, but rather as an act of critical responsibility.

Reversing conventional views of creativity, Drawing on Art suggests that all artistic production may be appropriative insofar as artists necessarily draw on other works, other artists, and the tradition in attempting to produce new works.

Last, this argument implies a redefinition of the artistic process as a collaborative partnership and activity. But how can this collaborative model be reconciled with Duchamp’s reluctance to formally associate with Cubism and later Dadaism and Surrealism, even as the latter two were wont to claim him?

Duchamp’s critique of artistic movements based on his rejection of artistic doctrine did not prevent him from selective participation in some group events, or from collaboration with fellow artists such as Picabia and Man Ray.  These collaborative endeavors emerged and gained delineation during the Paris Dada period (1919-22), and they also include the Dada film experiments that followed it (1924-28), which marked the movement’s transition into Surrealism.

Moreover, collaborations of various kinds continued throughout, most notably his activities with Dali and the Surrealist group (especially as regards design of exhibition spaces and curatorial activities), and they persisted into the late 1960’s as we can see from his works with Baj, among others.

I claim that the full significance of such collaborations is to be found in the intellectual exchanges and influential play of ideas.  And I propose that artists invariably draw on each other’s ideas and works and that the material conditions of production necessarily bring into play prior gestures and ideas.