Marcel Duchamp’s dialogues are arguably as important to modern art as Socrates’ dialogues were to ancient philosophy, fundamental documents of their field that raised questions for generations to come.
For years Duchamp’s conversations were accessible to English readers through the translation of a slim volume by Pierre Cabanne in which the artist spoke out against “retinal” art, objects designed to please the eye, and set the stage for conceptual art.
Now there’s another way to hear Duchamp, who died in 1968. New York artist Paul Chan, who runs the small press Badlands Unlimited, has published a set of interviews with the artist done in 1964 by his biographer, New Yorker writer Calvin Tomkins.
It’s a slim volume whose subjects are familiar to Duchamp followers: the Cartesian beauty of chess, the making of his Large Glass or the theatrical antics of Dada. But the chance to hear the artist directly on these topics is rare and important as a corrective to the Duchamp mythologizing that goes on today.
Most welcome of all: three 1964 audio clips included in the iTunes ebook version that enables us to hear Duchamp in his own voice — a voice that sounds both enthusiastic and crotchety about the "monetizing of art" and the boom in the auction business.
Or, as he says in one memorable exchange with Tomkins, collectors are "parasites" of a sort. "I like them very much because they are very nice people, but that has nothing to do with their essential quality, which is to be a parasite on the artist."
Marcel Duchamp: The Afternoon Interviews, by Calvin Tomkins, 110 pp.
Ebook and iTunes version: $5.99; softcover book: $16.00