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    Marcel Duchamp at 128 - The Big Glass and Chronic Illness

    Happy Would-Have-Been 128th Birthday to one of my favorite artists, Marcel Duchamp.

    Here's a piece I wrote a few years ago about Duchamp and how his attitude had something to say to people with chronic illness or facing adversity.


    Marcel Duchamp and The Large Glass

    Twenty+ years ago, I wrote a play that spoofed Performance Art.   As part of my research I read a lot about Art and certain artists. One of those artists was Marcel Duchamp. I had always found his sense of humor appealing, but the more I read about him, the more fascinated with him I became. Fortunately, at the time, my sister and mother both lived in or near Philadelphia, and I got to visit the Philadelphia Museum of Art a number of times, which has probably the largest single collection of Duchamp's work. This morning, a friend, (Photographer Kristina Rebelo, whose work often appears in The Haikulodeon), happened to send me a photograph of a broken window that she had taken the other day.   It immediately made me think of Duchamp's work, The Large Glass, aka The Bride Stripped Bare By Her Batchelors Even. And in doing so, I realized it had something to say to people with Chronic Illness.

    Duchamp worked on the Large Glass for about 8 years, starting about 1915. It was first shown at the Brooklyn Museum in 1926. While in transit following that show, it was broken... REALLY broken. Shattered into thousands of pieces.

    Duchamp then spent a number of years methodically piecing it all back together. When he was asked about how devastated he must have been to have something that he had spent so many years working on destroyed, he gave an unusual answer.   He said he actually liked the piece BETTER with the cracks in the glass. That it was a hundred times better now. This random act had actually, to his mind, completed the work. So he took each shard and put it back into place and then left it that way. It has been on display, cracks and all, at the Philadelphia museum for over 50 years.

    I often hear people who are newly diagnosed express how devastated they are about having been told they have a severe chronic illness.  They shout with despair, "My life is over!!" "I will never be the person I wanted to be!" "My dreams are all dead!"  

    That's when I think back to Duchamp. Instead of looking at his work as being destroyed, he found inspiration in what had happened and saw how an accident of fate had actually made a contribution that benefited and complemented his work.

    Our lives are not broken because we have a severe chronic illness. Our lives have been changed irrevocably, but they are not broken. We merely need to see and understand how this accident has transformed us and then continue to move forward. We are who we are, and that has nothing to do with any physical limitations.   Physical limitations are imposed on us, in order for us to come to know and then express with greater clarity and insight, who we are.   Your path has been permanently altered and altered much quicker than normal.  The scenery along the path has changed.  But your journey is still the same.


    More about the Large Glass:

    My play spoofing Performance Art:


    Love the play, Mr. Smith.  This line, I just can't believe:

    Remember the early eighties? An angry, cutting edge, urban counter-culture emerged called Hip-Hop. Where'd it go? They're all doing sneaker commercials.

    Because that's what I say about the early 90s!

    It's like a funnier Offending the Audience. Wish I'd seen Miklos in action.  Re: Duchamp, I'm guessing you've read The Banquet Years? It's all pre-Duchamp but you'd love it, if you haven't already. Lots in there on my hero, Alfred Jarry.

    Thanks MM.  I'm not familiar with The Banquet Years, but it looks like I should put it on my list for future reading. 

    P.S.  I wrote the play in the early 90's, so it makes me smile to think it was before the internet came along and changed everything.

    Well, you Mr. Smith have taught me that there are possibilities.

    I shall attempt to attain my possibilities. ha

    You give me hope.

    Thank you

    I shall revisit this site later.


    No, all is what is.

    Let us see what we can do with 'it'.

    That is what you teach me and others.

    Thank you.


    Duchamp, Fountain Sculpture, 1917

    Toujour l'audace!

    How many urinals have their own Wikipedia entry? 

    Toujours l'audace indeed!


    That is what I thought it looked like.


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