Brock's Reviews > Duchamp

Duchamp by Calvin Tomkins
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's review
Mar 02, 2010

it was ok
Read in December, 2008

Although he was sociable and a leader in the Village art scene for decades, Duchamp always kept himself a bit aloof and didn't reveal all that much about his thinking or his personal life. This makes a biographer's job difficult. Tompkins does his level best to provide a context for the work, but while he uncovers information about how the work came into being (as in his account of the famous "Fountain" readymade) and does a good job of describing the formal qualities of individual pieces, he doesn't seem to have the theoretical equipment for more trenchant analysis. To him, the accumulation of critical interpretations over the years obscure the essential playfulness of the work, and he likes to whip Arturo Schwarz for taking a psychoanalytical approach, but surely he could have found a more worthy and interesting opponent. More often than not, he ends up taking Duchamp's own explanations at face value, a very dodgy procedure. I suppose you could say that Duchamp's real work of art was his life, and while Duchamps himself remains elusive, the portraits of Picabia, Jarry, Wood, Arensburg, etc are fascinating. I think they were as curious about Duchamp as I am.

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