Marcel Duchamp’s enigmatic assemblage Étant donnés: 1. La chute d’eau, 2. Le gaz d’éclairage (Given: 1. The Waterfall, 2. The Illuminating Gas) has been described by the artist Jasper Johns as “the strangest work of art in any museum.” Permanently installed at the Museum since 1969, this three-dimensional environmental tableau offers an unforgettable and untranslatable experience to those who peer through the two small holes in the solid wooden door.
Celebrating the 40th anniversary of its public unveiling, Marcel Duchamp: Étant donnés situates the extraordinary assemblage within the context of almost 100 related works of art, including all of its known studies and related materials, including books, photographs, and works on paper. Duchamp also made a number of “erotic objects,” small-scale sculptures that directly relate to the casting process of the female nude in Étant donnés. This exhibition brings these known works together with more than twenty previously unknown sculptures and studies. These unpublished works include erotic objects, body casts, prints, and notes, as well as over seventy Polaroid photographs taken by Duchamp of Étant donnés in his New York studio that provide the missing link in our understanding of the origins and evolution of Duchamp’s final masterwork. These Polaroids are shown alongside a series of photographs of the artist’s final studio at 80 East 11th Street, taken by a friend, Denise Brown Hare, following Duchamp’s death in 1968, which document Étant donnés before it was disassembled and moved to Philadelphia. The exhibition is drawn largely from the collections and archives of the Museum, and supplemented by loans from public and private collections in the United States, France, Germany, Sweden, and Israel. The accompanying 448-page catalogue explores the history and reception of Duchamp’s final masterpiece, as well as its legacy for contemporary artists such as Ray Johnson, Hannah Wilke, Robert Gober, and Marcel Dzama.
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