Marcel Duchamp: The Art of the Possible Movie Review: What Would Modern Art Be Like Without Duchamp?

Available on iTunes and Amazon on March 10, 2020, comes a new documentary film from Electrolift Creative Productions, Marcel Duchamp: The Art of the Possible. Directed by Matthew Taylor and produced by Michelle Taylor, the 90-minute film mixes biography and opinion to create an intriguing portrait of artist Marcel Duchamp.

Marcel Duchamp was born in Normandy, France in 1887. The film begins with family photos and a quick introduction to Duchamp’s youth and then, like the artist himself, quickly sets off for Paris and the art world. Duchamp’s primary artistic mentors were his older brothers, artists Raymond Villon and Jacques Villon. The brothers studied Impressionism, post-Impressionism and sold cartoons to make money while attending classes at the Académie Julian. Duchamp made his first big splash at the Salons des Independents exhibition in Paris in 1912 with Nude Descending a Staircase No. 2. The organizers of the show considered the title too provocative and Duchamp, refusing to change the title, even at the advice of his brothers, withdrew the piece from the exhibition.

Duchamp never worked well in groups and left Paris for Munich, and then America, where he landed in New York. The famous Armory Show of 1913 accepted Nude Descending a Staircase No. 2. It was the sensation of the show, receiving tons of press coverage, mostly negative, yet propelling Duchamp to art star status. He met art patrons Louise and Walter Arensberg, who agreed to pay his studio rent in return for acquiring his work, especially The Large Glass (The Bride Stripped Bare by her Bachelors, Even), which took him twelve years to complete.

Marcel Duchamp: The Art of the Possible poses the question: what would modern art be like without Duchamp? He shirked traditional art-making techniques. His way of making art was cerebral. He believed that language could transport you to another world. His artistic output is comprised as much of his notes and ideas for artwork as it is his actual art pieces, many of which currently reside in the Philadelphia Museum of Art.

Duchamp believed in a new way of making art. He used chance to create pieces, and believed that art should be an open, experimental activity. Creativity itself, his ideas, was the art. He often said that art is made by an artist but doesn’t achieve its final purpose until it is seen by the viewer. This idea may have been most clearly embodied in his ready-mades pieces of sculpture made from common everyday objects such as a shovel (In Advance of the Broken Arm, 1915), bottle rack, (Bottle Rack, 1914), bicycle wheel (Bicycle Wheel, 1913), and urinal (Fountain, 1917). Always a provacateur, Duchamp’s sculptures shocked (and sometimes still continue to shock) art audiences. They challenge what we think of art, what art can be.

Duchamp wanted to expand the definitions of art. It is undeniable the readymades had a huge effect on artists of subsequent generations, most notably Robert Rauschenberg, Jasper Johns, and Andy Warhol. Entire modern art movements and genres like Fluxus, happenings, body art, performance art, pop art, conceptual art, and ’80s appropriation art all owe a debt to Duchamp. Although he may have had a profound influence on many art movements, Duchamp never wanted to associate his own work with the movents of his day, such as Surrealism or Dada. Marcel Duchamp: The Art of the Possible helps make the case that he helped shift the focus of the art world from Paris to New York.

Filling in the blanks and helping tell his story are artist interviews and film clips of Joseph Kosuth, Ed Ruscha, Jasper Johns, Robert Rauschenberg, Jeff Koons, Carolee Schneeman, David Bowie, Marina Abramovic, and others. Interviewed art world experts include Michel Gondry, Paul Matisse, Francis M. Naumann, Calvin Tomkins, Carlos Gerard Malanga, and many more.

Marcel Duchamp: The Art of the Possible is a fascinating feature-length documentary film that highlights an innovative and influential artist who can truly be called the father of modern art.

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Elizabeth Periale

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