Where do we go from here?
“To imagine the future, we should perhaps start frome the more or less recent past, which seems to us today to begin with realism of Courbet and Manet. It does not seem in fact that realism is at the heart of the liberation of the artist as an individual, whose work, to which the viewer or collector adapt himself, sometimes with difficulty, has an independent existence.
This period of liberation rapidly gave birth to all the ‘isms’ which have followed one another during the last century, at the rate of one new ‘ism’ about every fifteen years.
I believe that to try and guess what will happen tomorrow, we must group the ‘isms’ together through their common factor, instead of differentiating them.
Considered in the framework of a century of modern art, the very recent examples of Abstract Expressionism clearly show the ultimate in the retinal approach begun by Impressionism. By ‘retinal’ I mean that the aesthetic pleasure depends almost entirely on the impression of the retina, without appealing to any auxiliary interpretation.
Scarcely twenty years ago the public still demanded of the work of art some representative detail to justify its interest and admiration.
Today, the opposite is almost true … the general public is aware the existence of abstraction, understands it and even demands it of the artists.
I am not talking about the collectors who for fifty years have supported this progression towards a total abandon of representation in the visual arts; like the artists, they have been swept along by the current. The fact that the problem of the last hundred years boils down almost entirely to the single dilemma of the ‘representative and the non-representative’ seems to me to reinforce the importance I gave a moment ago to the entirely retinal aspect of the total output of the different ‘isms’.
Therefore I am inclined, after this examination of the past, to believe that the young artist of tomorrow will refuse to base his work on a philosophy as over-simplified as that of the ‘representative and the non-representative’ dilemma.
I am convinced that, like Alice in Wonderland, he will be led to pass through th looking-glass of the retina, to reach a more profound expression.
I am only too well aware that among the ‘isms’ which I have mentioned, Surrealism introduced the exploration of the subconscious and reduced the role of the retina to that of an open window on the phenomena of the brain.
The young artist of tomorrow will, I believe, have to go still further in this same direction, to bring to light startling new values which are and will still always be the basis of artistic revolutions.
If we now envisage the more technical side of a possible future, it is likely that the artist, tired of the cult for oils in painting, will find himself completely abandoning this five-hundred-year-old process, which restricts his freedom of expression by its academic ties.
Other techniques have already appeared recently and we can foresee that just as the invention of new musical instruments changes the whole sensibility of an era, the phenomenon of light can, due to current scientific progress, among other things, become the new tool for the new artist.
In the present state of relations between artists and the public, we can see an enormous output which the public moreover supports and encourages. Through their close connection with the law of supply and demand the visual arts have become a ‘commodity'; the work of art is now a commonplace product like soap and securities.
So we can perfectly well imagine the creation of a union which would deal with all the economic questions concerning the artist … we can imagine this union deciding on the selling price of works of art, just as the plumbers’ union determines the salary of each worker … we can even imagine this union forcing the artist to abandon his identity, even to the point of no longer having the right to sign his works. Would the total artistic output controlled by a union of this kind form a sort of monument to a given era comparable to the anonymous cathedrals?
These various aspects of art today bring us to look at it as a whole, in terms of an over-developed exoteric. By that I mean that the general public accepts and demands a lot from art, far too much from art; that the general public today seeks aesthetic satisfaction wrapped up in a set of material and speculative values and is drawing artistic output towards an enormous dilution.
This enormous dilution, losing in quality what it gains in quantity, is accompanied by a levelling down of present taste and its immediate result will be to shroud the near future in mediocrity.
In conclusion, I hope that this medicrity, conditioned by too many factors foreign to art per se, will this time bring a revolution on the ascetic level, of which the general public will not even be aware and which only a few initiates will develop on the fringe of a world blinded by economic fireworks.
The great artist of tomorrow will go underground.”
(Marcel Duchamp. Symposium at Philadelphia Museum College of Art, March 1961. Adress to a symposium at the Philadelphia Museum College of Art, March 1961. Translated by Helen Meakins. First published in the Duchamp issue of Studio international, 1975)
“Es ist sehr einfach: damals gab es keine Integration, und sie waren Parias, allesamt. Die Ära der Parias. Wir genossen es, Parias zu sein. Wir wollten nicht integriert werden. Nach den zwei Weltkriegen – besonders nach dem zweiten – herrschte völlige Integration. Einer, der den Wunsch hätte, heutzutage ein Revolutionär zu sein, dürfte nicht bekannt werden. Er wird unbekannt bleiben müssen. Sobald er integriert wird, ist er verloren; wenn er Erfolg hat, schlägt er fehl, denn das Gepräge dieser Gesellschaft ist sinnschmälernd und zerstörerisch.” (Duchamp, Vogue 1963)
“Und mit der Kommerzialisierung ist die Integrierung des Künstlers in die Gesellschaft aufgekommen, zum erstenmal in hundert Jahren. Zu meiner Zeit, da waren wir Künstler Parias, und wir wußten es und genossen es. Aber heute ist der Künstler integriert, und deshalb muß er bezahlt werden, und deshalb muß er fortfahren, für den Markt zu produzieren. Das ist ein Teufelskreis. Und die Künstler sind so erhabene Egos! Es ist widerlich. Nein, die einzige Lösung für den großen Mann von morgen in der Kunst ist, in den ≪Untergrund≫ zu gehen. Nach seinem Tode mag er dann erkannt werden, wenn er Glück hat. Dadurch, daß er nichts mit der Geldgesellschaft zu ihren eigenen Bedingungen zu tun hat, wird er in sie nicht integriert werden müssen, und er wird nicht angesteckt werden wie all die übrigen. … Ich will ihnen sagen, was geschehen wird. Das Publikum wird weiterhin immer mehr Kunst kaufen, und die Ehegatten werden anfangen, auf ihrem Nachhauseweg von der Arbeit für ihre Gattinnen kleine Gemälde zu kaufen, und wir alle werden in einem Meer der Mittelmäßigkeit ertrinken.” (Duchamp, “The New Yorker” 1965)
Marcel Duchamp: “There was a symposium in Philadelphia on the subject, more or less, of where we go from here. I ended by saying that the great man of tomorrow should not be seen, cannot be seen, and should go underground.”
Calvin Tomkins: “Well, in a sense, you have gone underground.”
Duchamp: “I was underground at the beginning but now I’m not … It’s probably my doom, too.” (Marcel Duchamp: The Afternoon Interviews, 1964 by Calvin Tompkins, with an introduction by Paul Chan)
Where / What is ‘underground’ today? / Wo / was ist ‘Untergrund’ heute? Please leave a comment, share and ask your friends.