Denise Browne Hare, Étant donnés in the Corner of Marcel Duchamp’s 11th Street Studio, (1968)
Hare documented the half assembled Étant donnés as it appeared in Duchamp’s cramped studio on East 11th Street in NYC in a series of photographs that were taken in the last week of December, 1969. The portfolio was commissioned by the artist’s close friend, Alexina “Teeny” Duchamp, who felt that it was important to capture for posterity the ambiance of the artist’s cramped and sparsely furnished studio.
Name: Étant donnés Artist: Marcel Duchamp Year: 1946-196 Medium: Installation art Info: An ode to Courbet’s work. This is a rather complex piece of work in terms of its construction requiring a brick doorframe with a keyhole to be erected around the piece. You see, you approach the doorframe, with little reluctance, peek through the keyhole seeing nothing too special about it, only to be greeted by l’origine du monde in its full, unabashed glory. Though the exact meaning is unknown –Duchamp was very secretive about his work- there is speculation that the piece represents the three lovers in his life, another speculation links the piece to the famous “Black Dahlia” murder in 1947, whilst there is further speculation that the piece is a misogynistic statement. It’s also credited as being the first piece of installation art.
In 1969, one year after Duchamp’s death, the Philadelphia Museum of Art revealed the artist’s work. This shocked the art world because in 1923 Duchamp announced that he was giving up art for his true passion, chess. His followers were also surprised by the realism in this final constructed piece which contrasted sharply with his previous Dadaist works.
Duchamp had been working on the piece in secret from 1946 to 1966. It is visible through a pair of peepholes in a wooden that look onto a scene of a naked woman lying her back. The tableau is constructed of bricks, velvet, twigs, a female form made of parchment, glass, linoleum, an assortment of lights, a landscape composed of hand-painted and photographed elements and an electric motor housed in a cookie tin which rotates a perforated disc.
Duchamp left a carefully constructed instructed manual to accompany the piece.
ABOUT THE IMAGE: This extraordinary piece actually contains three different elements; the door, and the two images seen through the door (The Waterfall and The Illuminating Gas). The wooden door has two peepholes and when you look through, your role changes from viewer to voyeur. Inside the is a woman who, to be frank, is lying spread eagle holding a gas lamp. During the construction of this piece Duchamp carried on an affair with Maria Martin, the wife of a Brazilian ambassador, who served as the model for Etant Donnes.
ABOUT THE ARTIST: Marcel Duchamp was born in Blainville-Cravon, France on July 28,1887 (death October 2, 1968). He is known as the creator of the Ready-Made, and is associated with Dadaism. Duchamp was more than just an artist, he was an writer and a chess player.
TALK BACK: This piece is regarded as both sculpture and installation art; which do you think it is?
Jasper Johns, a longtime Duchampian, once referred to “Étant Donnés” as “the strangest work of art in any museum.” And strange it is. It occupies a closed-off room in a dead-end area at the back of the main Duchamp gallery. The room can’t be entered. The entrance is blocked by a pair of locked antique wooden doors, solid except for two tiny side-by-side peepholes in their center.
When you look through the holes — only one person at a time can do so, making for a very self-conscious viewing experience — you see a shattered brick wall just beyond the door, and in the distance a painted landscape of hills, autumn-tinged trees and what appears to be an actively flowing waterfall.
In the foreground, just past the shattered wall, the nude body of a woman reclines on a nest of dried branches, her legs spread wide to reveal oddly malformed genitals. Her face is obscured by her blond hair. Her lower legs and right arm are out of the range of vision. Her left arm is raised at the elbow, and in her hand she holds a small, glowing electric lamp.
from “Landscape of Eros, Through the Peephole” by Holland Cotter.