Every two weeks, CP features a Philly love note in its collaboration with blogger Emma Fried-Cassorla of phillylovenotes.com.
LOVE NOTE RECIPIENT: Duchamp's Étant donnés (Given: 1 The Waterfall, 2. The Illuminating Gas, French: Étant donnés: 1° la chute d'eau / 2° le gaz d'éclairage) in the Philadelphia Museum of Art.
I AM: Scientist, artist, sometimes writer about science and art, distractable weirdo, slowsee-er
MY LOVE NOTE:
Dear Duchamp's Étant donnés,
Probably what I love about this piece is its hidden badassery. Duchamp, obviously was a complete badass, and he gave up the art world (somehow convincing everyone he had devoted his life to chess), to work on Étant donnés. He worked on it in semi-secret, maintaining the chess charade, for decades, (1946-66), and it wasn't unveiled until after his death.
So it is a secret piece and he made it for itself, and never had to confront a critical reception to it, though he did make it to be on display at the PMA. And obviously, looking at it — you realize that it's the work of someone completely obsessed. There is something weirdly tangible about that kind of stalker-y intense love produced in making something while obsessed by it and this piece, which I called "fucking-crazy-secret-naked-dead-waterfall" when I first saw it — and Étant donnés totally has it.
I stumbled on it in 2005. I knew about it, but somehow didn't realize it was at the PMA till my mom (my mom! of all people!) took me into this secret back room in the Duchamp section (thanks to Anne d'Harnoncourt the museum has one of the best Duchamp collections in the world) and pointed me to this mysterious door with strange peepholes ... and ... well, just total weirdness. One person at a time has to peep through the door, and of course you are instantly trapped in this bonkers voyeuristic scene. OK, so there's the mysterious Laura Palmer-y nude (there is a rip near her belly, btw. Check it out, poor thing), but the whole tableau is so weirdly composed and unbent at the same time: the landscape, the perfect, glitttery waterfall, the upraised lantern. It's so still, but it just seems like it's going to degenerate into chaos at any minute. The whole scene is full of untold stories. I don't know what to say. It's strange and brilliant and secret and it was made for here. This thing is a fucking treasure! I love you, Étant donnés.
Love, Alison Dell
P.S. The world should know that the PMA's upcoming "Dancing Around the Bride," celebrating Duchamp's influence on John Cage, Merce Cunnungham, Jasper Johns and Robert Rauchenberg, is going to be pretty great. It opens October 30.
Have a favorite spot you'd like to write a love note to? Send it to the author at moc.liamg@setonevolyllihp.
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