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On Exhibit: Duchamp turns viewers into participants

On Exhibit: Duchamp turns viewers into participants

Works seen at Frances Young Tang Teaching Museum
On Exhibit: Duchamp turns viewers into participants
“Rose Ocean: Living with Duchamp,” on view at the Frances Young Tang Teaching Museum and Art Gallery at Skidmore.
Photographer: Arthur Evans

A pathway blocked by numerous pieces of white string and the sounds of shattering plaster (or is it glass?) greet the viewer in “Rose Ocean: Living with Duchamp,” at the Frances Young Tang Teaching Museum.

Every piece of the exhibition seems to harken to the great Marcel Duchamp, artist, theorist, chess player, curator and thinker. If a viewer wants they can spend their time finding the echoes of Duchamp in every work.

But half the fun of the experimental exhibition is actually experiencing the optical illusions, humor and wordplay along with the disruptive crashing sounds in the background.

“Duchamp’s work makes us wonder and question,” said curator and Dayton director Ian Berry.

Indeed, Duchamp questioned the definition of art (arguing that it’s really the context that makes art “art”).

It’s not the first time the Tang has honored Duchamp. In 2003 the Museum exhibited “Living With Duchamp,” which Berry said was groundbreaking for the Tang. But they weren’t quite done with Duchamp.

“It felt like a provocative thing for us to do,” Berry said, “It’s rare for museums to repeat.”

For this rendition, Berry recruited Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute’s Michael Oatman, who teaches “Marcel Duchamp Seminar” to students in the Institute’s architectural program. Students in the seminar learned about Duchamp and, over the course of the year, designed the exhibition, working with pieces from the Tang's collection and a few from other collections.

“We would never have come up with [many of their ideas],” Berry said.

The string piece mentioned above was brought about by the students. Pieces of string block off what seems like an entryway at the beginning of the exhibition. On one wall of the entryway, the names of the students who worked on the exhibition are posted and on another, the names of the artists featured are listed. The strings connect the students and the artists, making a tangled web that the viewer can change with the pair of scissors and a spool of thread that are just below the web. The piece references Duchamp’s “mile of string” exhibition, in which he strung string across the exhibition, forming a cobweb-like maze and disrupting the expectations of a typical gallery or museum experience.

Viewers can also interact with works like Francis Picabia’s “Portrait of a Young American Girl in a State of Nudity,” which is two sided and is framed and mounted on hinges so viewers can see both sides and change the way the piece is displayed.

Other works, like “Staircase Group,” by Sophie Matisse, offer a more mysterious or perhaps whimsical side. If the glowing staircase weren’t in a museum it seems like the sort of thing a child would unknowingly try to climb. Matisse’s piece is a take on Duchamp’s “Nude Descending a Staircase No. 2,” though in Matisse’s work the nude is absent.

A photo by Andy Warhol is mixed in with pieces from Naomi Savage and Douglas Vogel, though there are noticeably no pieces of label copy next to each work as is usual for an exhibition.

Without the label copy, we’re left to gather our own notions about the artists, how the works relate to each other (if they even relate to one another), etc.
The exhibition also dishes up some wordplay, most notably with David Robin’s “Comic Object/Movable Corner/Portable Dilemma,” which plays with the idea of painting oneself into a corner (one that just happens to be movable).

The heart of the exhibition features plenty of Duchampion readymades, like a mirror bulb with a GE logo or the broken fountain, or the bicycle wheel on a stool, though each has an unconventional aspect hiding in plain sight. Two works by artist Michael Brown appear to be a simple bucket and mop but they’re actually made from melted albums from Bob Dylan and The Rolling Stones.

This exhibition takes time to explore and is well worth a visit (or maybe two).

One last note: Don’t miss the eye holes at the start of the exhibit. It may sound strange but it’s worth a look. If you don’t see anything at first, keep looking. Oh, and head towards the crashing sounds. 

“Rose Ocean: Living with Duchamp” will be on exhibition until May 20. For more information visit tang.skidmore.edu

“Effects That Aren’t Special”

The Opalka Gallery is taking a step back and offering up an Annual Photo Regional that’s unfiltered.

“Effects That Aren’t Special,” which opens on Thursday, abandons many of the so-called “special effects” that today’s photographers often apply.

The Regional was a curated invitational rather than a juried show, as it has been in the past. Opalka brought in artist, writer and musician Tim Davis to curate. Davis’ work has been exhibited in the Whitney Museum of American Art, Tate Modern in London, the Metropolitan Museum of Art, and several other galleries.

He curated works by 16 regional artists, including Polly Apfelbaum, Saskia Baden, Marco Breuer, Sharon Core, Phyllis Galembo, Justin Kimball, Chad Kleitsch, Mark Lyon, Pete Mauney, Rune Olsen, Ahndraya Parlato and Gregory Halpern, Seth David Rubin, Parker Shipp, Julianne Swartz and Sarah Sweeney.

Each artist used optical or conceptual effects rather than special effects within their work. Davis’ intent was to create a show featuring unadorned photography.

From 6 p.m. to 8 p.m. on Friday there will be an opening reception. For other programming and more information about the exhibition, visit sage.edu/opalka. The exhibition will be on display until April 21.

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