Saturday, September 11, 2010

Affectionately, Marcel (Two Letters Of Marcel Duchamp)

     Following are two letters written by Marcel Duchamp, which were published in Affectionately, Marcel: The Selected Correspondence of Marcel Duchamp, by Francis M. Naumann and Hector Obalk Ludlon (2000, Ludlon Press, Ghent). 

     Although Duchamp's correspondence is scattered, and is published and available in a number of books and pamphlets, this is a very special collection (containing letters written both in French and English) that is worth seeking out, both for the letters themselves and for the editors' observations both about the circumstances that occasioned each of the letters and about Duchamp's epistolary style and his attitudes concerning written correspondence.  It's really an essential piece of Duchampiana.

     Naumann's Introduction is fascinating and bears on the first of the letters posted here, a 1937 Duchamp reply (written in English) to a letter from his friend and patron Katherine Dreier concerning her decision to withdraw certain artworks contained in the Societe Anonyme collection (the Societe Anonyme was the pioneering US modernist/avant-garde "art museum" established by Miss Dreier, Duchamp and Man Ray in 1920) from the pioneering Museum of Modern Art exhibition, Fantastic Art, Dada and Surrealism, because she objected to the juxtaposition of Dada and Surrealist works with artwork made by small children and the clinically insane. 


I.              Marcel Duchamp To Katherine S. Dreier  9 February, 1937, Paris
11 Rue Larrey 9th Feb 37
            Bombshell all right.
It is difficult to picture the whole thing from my peaceful Paris ___
     but your statement clarified the situation for the public.
Also it will make the public more conscious of the importance of what is
     going on ____
Comparing with our past times  --- the Matisse, the cubist and futurist
  episodes ---  it is always good for general recognition to stir the stew
  which is generally created by such episodes.
As for Man Ray, he does not want to do any further move giving
    unnecessary publicity to the museum.
I still think that criticizing for or against is of equal value, meaning that
    the amount of publicity is proportional to the number of lines written
   for as well as against.
--- The thing criticized always profits by any criticism (at least along the
public lines).
As long as you made it a clear statement it is perfect___If it becomes a fight
    there should be a winner____And the win has no more to do with right
   or wrong ____it is a gamble.
All this please keep to yourself and let me know the further
I received the 300 francs which I gave to Madeleine___Many  thanks.
And now get ready for your trip___

II.              Marcel Duchamp to Alfred Stieglitz, 17 May 1922, New York

                        Dear Stieglitz _____

Even a few [cross-out] words I don’t feel like writing
You know exactly what I think about photography
I would like to make people despise painting until something else
    will make photography unbearable _____
There we are.
     Marcel Duchamp

Note:  Marcel Duchamp probably first met Alfred Stieglitz, the important 20th century photographer, gallery owner and promoter of modern art, during one of his early visits to New York, possibly around 1915 when Stieglitz mounted Francis Picabia’s first one-man art show at his 291 Gallery at 291 Fifth Avenue in Manhattan.  This letter was also written in English.

Katherine Dreier:  Abstract Portrait of Marcel Duchamp, 1918 Oil on canvas

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