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Dada, Duchamp Style! 

According to the Brittanica,

The ARMORY SHOW, formally International Exhibition Of Modern Art, an exhibition of painting and sculpture held from Feb. 17 to March 15, 1913, at the Sixty-ninth Regiment Armory in New York City. The show, a decisive event in the development of American art, was originally conceived by its organizers, the Association of American Painters and Sculptors, as a selection of representational works exclusively by American artists, members both of the National Academy of Design and of the more progressive Ashcan School and The Eight. The election of Arthur B. Davies as president of the association changed this conception. A member of The Eight, Davies produced pleasant, Romantic paintings that enjoyed the respect of almost all of the American art establishment. He was also a man with a broad, highly developed taste, capable of appreciating trends in art far more radical than his own style, and he was aware of developments in Europe. Davies, with the help of Walt Kuhn and Walter Pach, spent a year, much of it in Europe, assembling a collection that was later called a "harbinger of universal anarchy." The exhibition traveled to New York City, Chicago, and Boston and was seen by approximately 300,000 Americans. Of the 1,600 works included in the show, about one-third were European, and attention became focused on them. The selection was almost a history of European Modernism. Beginning with J.-A.-D. Ingres and Eugène Delacroix, the exhibition displayed works by Impressionists, Symbolists, Postimpressionists, Fauves, and Cubists. Although the sculpture section was weak and the Expressionists were poorly represented, the show exposed the American public for the first time to advanced European art. American art suffered by contrast.Reactions to the show were varied. Marcel Duchamp's Cubist painting "Nude Descending a Staircase, No. 2" was popularly described as "an explosion in a shingle factory"; and Henri Matisse, Constantin Brancusi, and Walter Pach were hanged in effigy by Chicago art students. Yet this show became the basis of many important private American collections.
For American art, the show had results more difficult to gauge. Stuart Davis exemplified one artist's reaction: "The Armory Show was the greatest shock to me--the greatest single influence I have experienced in my work." Similarly, the artists Joseph Stella, John Marin, Georgia O'Keeffe, and Arthur Dove were encouraged by the Armory Show to continue their avant-garde direction. American painting in general, however, continued to be dominated by the realists--the Ashcan School and its successors, American Scene painting and Social Realism--until some 30 years later.
"Armory Show."   Britannica 2001 Standard Edition CD-ROM.   Copyright © 1994-2001 Inc.   November 24, 2002. 

Marcel Duchamp.
Nude Descending Staircase #2. 1912
Form:  This oil painting is done in a cubist style but also borrows somewhat what from the moving fluid cubsim that one sees in the works of Italian Futuristssuch as Giaccomo Balla and Umberto Boccioni.  The painting itself is kind of ugly and portrays the movement of a man descending some steps.  The image is somewhat based on the time lapse photos taken by Eakins and Muybridge that record the same things. 

The use of ugly browns and the poorly copied style in which he borrows from Picasso and Braquetend to prove out what one of my professors once said,  "Duchamp was a mediocre painter and because of this he became more of a conceptual artist."Iconography:  The iconography of this image also borrows heavily from Muybridge, the cubists, and the futurists, but at the time, the time lapse image of human movement, recorded in a cubist vocabulary was seen as groundbreaking and avante garde.  Perhaps, if one wanted to read heavily inot this image, it's possible to conclude that Duchamp's meaning is similar to the futurists and that the image is meant to portray not just a man but rather mankind's movement or humanity as it changes and flows.
Context:  When people first saw Duchamp's Nude Descending Staircase #2. at the New York Armory Show they were provoked, offended, and somewhat amused.  The newspapers even ran a cartoon ridiculing the painting. (See left)
According to the Brittanica,

Marcel Duchamp
b. July 28, 1887, Blainville, Fr.
d. Oct. 2, 1968, Neuilly 
French artist who broke down the boundaries between works of art and everyday objects. After the sensation caused by "Nude Descending a Staircase, No. 2" (1912), he painted few other pictures. His irreverence for conventional aesthetic standards led him to devise his famous ready-mades and heralded an artistic revolution. Duchamp was friendly with the Dadaists, and in the 1930s he helped to organize Surrealist exhibitions. He became a U.S. citizen in 1955.
Early years
Although Duchamp's father was a notary the family had an artistic tradition stemming from his grandfather, a shipping agent who practiced engraving seriously. Four of the six Duchamp children became artists. Gaston, born in 1875, was later known as Jacques Villon, and Raymond, born in 1876, called himself Duchamp-Villon. Marcel, the youngest of the boys, and his sister Suzanne, born in 1889, both kept the name Duchamp as artists.When Marcel arrived in Paris in October 1904, his two elder brothers were already in a position to help him. He had done some painting at home, and his "Portrait of Marcel Lefrançois" shows him already in possession of a style and of a technique. During the next few years, while drawing cartoons for comic magazines, Duchamp passed rapidly through the main contemporary trends in painting--Postimpressionism, the influence of Paul Cézanne, Fauvism, and finally Cubism. He was merely experimenting, seeing no virtue in making a habit of any one style. He was outside artistic tradition not only in shunning repetition but also in not attempting a prolific output or frequent exhibition of his work. In the Fauvist style Marcel painted some of his best early work three or four years after the Fauvist movement itself had died away. The "Portrait of the Artist's Father" is a notable example. Only in 1911 did he begin to paint in a manner that showed a trace of Cubism. He had then become a friend of the poet Guillaume Apollinaire, a strong supporter of Cubism and of everything avant-garde in the arts. Another of his close friends was Francis Picabia, himself a painter in the most orthodox style of Impressionism until 1909, when he felt the need of complete change. Duchamp shared with him the feeling that Cubism was too systematic, too static and "boring." They both passed directly from "semirealism" to a "nonobjective" expression of movement. There they met "Futurism" and "Abstractionism," which they had known before only by name.
The "Nude." To an exhibition in 1911 Duchamp sent a "Portrait" that was composed of a series of five almost monochromatic, superimposed silhouettes. In this juxtaposition of successive phases of the movement of a single body appears the idea for the "Nude Descending a Staircase, No. 2." The main difference between the two works is that in the earlier one the kangaroo-like silhouettes can be distinguished. In the "Nude," on the other hand, there is no nude at all but only a descending machine, a nonobjective and virtually cinematic effect that was entirely new in painting.
When the "Nude" was brought to the 28th Salon des Indépendants in February 1912, the committee, composed of friends of the Duchamp family, refused to hang the painting. These men were not reactionaries and were well accustomed to Cubism, yet they were unable to accept the novel vision. A year later at the Armory Show in New York City, the painting again was singled out from among hundreds that were equally shocking to the public. Whatever it was that made the work so scandalous in Paris, and in New York so tremendous a success, prompted Duchamp to stop painting at the age of 25. A widely held belief is that Duchamp introduced in his work a dimension of irony, almost a mockery of painting itself, that was more than anyone could bear and that undermined his own belief in painting. The title alone was a joke that was resented. Even the Cubists did their best to flatter the eye, but Duchamp's only motive seemed to be provocation.
Years later, Duchamp is viewed as a sort of beacon or icon of the artistic avante garde.  "Time Magazine" art critic wrote the following article about Duchamp that seems to indicate that Duchamp is a kind of hero of modern art. 

Marcel Duchamp.
Nude Descending Staircase #2. 1912

Thomas Eakins 1884
Excerpts from,
Days of antic weirdness. by Robert Hughes. Time, 01/27/97, Vol. 149 Issue 4, p70, 2p, 4c HTML Full Text

Dadaism--its name made of baby-talk syllables, its intent to disorient bourgeois expectations of culture by any means possible--was a short-lived but fecund movement born and raised in Europe in the century's teens. It was more like a tiny religion than an art event, with a proselytizing spirit, a code of behavior, a core of the faithful, and a hope of transforming existence. It relied on irrationality, negation, sarcastic humor. Its most durable legacy lay in French Surrealism (the Surrealist fascination with the unconscious was largely inherited from Dada, and several artists, most notably Max Ernst, began as Dadas and drafted themselves into the Surrealist movement). Dada left its traces in America, but never struck deep roots there. It never acquired the criticality, the indignation or the longing for social subversion that marked it in Europe. It devolved into amusing in-jokes and tended to preciosity and quirkiness. This grew out of the tiny clique of self-professed illuminati that sustained it. Its sense of humor never grew as robust as the work of the professional funny guys who helped inspire it, like Rube Goldberg or the Marx Brothers. In America the Dadas were plagued by the thought that American popular culture was more Dada than Dada could be. And in fact they were right.
The movement, such as it was, had only one (relatively) heavyweight American in its membership, the painter, photographer and objectmaker Man Ray. Its spirit was best exemplified by two foreign artists who enriched the New York scene by visiting it--the Frenchman Marcel Duchamp and the French-Cuban Francis Picabia. Their impact goes back to the far-famed Armory Show of modern art, held in 1913, which first gave a mass American audience a chance to see modernism.
In the fire storm of ridicule and puzzlement set off by the Armory Show, which 300,000 people saw during the course of its run, Duchamp in particular benefited, on the basis of a single picture: Nude Descending a Staircase, No. 2, 1912. It became the star freak of the show--its bearded lady, its dog-faced boy. People compared it to a Navajo rug, a cyclone in a shingle factory, an earthquake in the subway. A dull brown painting in a Cubist idiom, its overlapping planes were partly derived from the motion-analysis photos of Etienne-Jules Marey. Its very title was ironic, almost insupportable. Nudes, in art, were not supposed to move, let alone walk downstairs. They were meant to stand or lie as still as statues. Movement suggested indecency, even though this nude had no detectable sexual traits.
As a picture, the Nude is neither poor nor great, but its fame today is the fossil of the huge notoriety it acquired as a puzzle-picture in 1913. It is lodged in history because it embodied the belief that the new, revolutionary work of art has to be scorned and stoned like a prophet by the uncomprehending crowd. In the cult of the problematic, as distinct from the enjoyable, Duchamp rapidly became a saint, and the Nude is one of his prime relics. So are his "readymades"--a snow shovel or a ceramic urinal designated as works of art, sardonic jokes that have been done seven-eighths to death by decades of critical interpretation, but that nonetheless are the ancestors of every piece of "appropriation" art done by Americans from early Jasper Johns down to the present day.
Reactions to the show were varied. Marcel Duchamp's Cubist painting "Nude Descending a Staircase, No. 2" was popularly described as "an explosion in a shingle factory"; and Henri Matisse, Constantin Brancusi, and Walter Pach were hanged in effigy by Chicago art students. Yet this show became the basis of many important private American collections.
"Armory Show."   Britannica 2001 Standard Edition CD-ROM.   Copyright © 1994-2001 Inc.   November 24, 2002. 
In 1913 Duchamp began to produce "ready-mades", mundane objects taken out of context by the artist, made unusable for their original purpose and presented as works of art. Talking about "ready-mades" Duchamp said, 

"In 1913 I had the happy idea to fasten a bicycle wheel to a kitchen stool and watch it turn . . . In New York in 1915 I bought a hardware store shovel on which I wrote 'in advance of the broken arm.' It was around that time that the word 'readymade' came to mind to designate this form of manifestation. A point which I want very much to establish is that the choice of these 'readymades' was never dictated by esthetic delectation. This choice was based on a reaction of visual indifference with at the same time a total absence of good or bad taste. I realized very soon the danger of repeating indiscriminately this form of expression and decided to limit the production of 'readymades' to a small number yearly. I was aware at that time, for the spectator even more than for the artist, art is a habit-forming drug and I wanted to protect my 'readymades' against such contamination."

Marcel Duchamp.L.H.O.O.Q. 1919. 
Drawing on photographic reproduction.
7.75 x 4.125" (19.7 x 10.5 cm).
Robert A. Baron writes,
The most well known act of degrading a famous work of art is probably Marcel Duchamp's L.H.O.O.Q., a cheap postcard-sized reproduction of the Mona Lisa upon which in 1919 the artist drew a mustache and a thin goatee beard. On one hand L.H.O.O.Q. must be understood as one of Duchamp's "readymade" works of art—works that he didn't make, but which . . . [force] the observer to see ordinary objects from new perspectives. In this way their innate aesthetic contents would make themselves manifest-as happens in one of his more infamous works: the urinal turned on its side and rebaptized "Fountain." However, to most observers, instead of elevating the ordinary, Marcel's Mona Lisa works in the opposite direction; it defaces (literally) that which has been cherished, and brings a famous work down to the level of vulgar vandalism and cheap reproduction. The title makes the point, too, but obscurely, since when pronounced in French "L.H.O.O.Q." reports as a pun on the phrase "Elle a chaud au cul," which translates colloquially as "She is hot in the ass."

Marcel Duchamp. The Fountain. 1917
Please go to this link to learn more about Duchamp's "Fountain."

Marcel Duchamp.
The Bride Stripped Bare by Her Bachelors, Even. 1915-23
oil and lead wire on glass. 9'x5'
According to the Brittanica,

Although Duchamp carefully avoided art circles, he remained in contact with the Surrealist group in Paris, composed of many of his former Dadaist friends. When in 1934 he published the Green Box, containing a series of documents related to "The Large Glass," the Surrealist poet André Breton perceived the importance of the painting and wrote the first comprehensive study of Duchamp, which appeared in the Paris magazine Minotaure in 1935. From that time on there was a closer association between the Surrealists and Duchamp, who helped Breton to organize all the Surrealist exhibitions from 1938 to 1959. Just before World War II he assembled his Boîte-en-valise, a suitcase containing 68 small-scale reproductions of his works. When the Nazis occupied France, he smuggled his material across the border in the course of several trips. Eventually he carried it to New York City, where he joined a number of the Surrealists in exile, including Breton, Max Ernst, and Yves Tanguy. He was instrumental in organizing the Surrealist exhibition in New York City in October and November of 1942.Unlike his co-exiles, he felt at home in America, where he had many friends. During the war, the exhibition of "The Large Glass" at the Museum of Modern Art, New York City, helped to revive his reputation, and a special issue of the art magazine View was devoted to him in 1945. Two years later he was back in Paris assisting Breton with a Surrealist exhibition, but he returned to New York City promptly and spent most of the remainder of his life there. After his marriage to Teeny Sattler in 1954, he lived more than ever in semiretirement, content with chess and with producing, as the spirit moved him, some strange and unexpected object.

Rrose Selavy photo by Man Ray
Marcel Duchamp
Form:  This is a photo taken by the famous photographer Man Ray of Marcel Duchamp dressed as female who he called Rrose Selavy, which is basically a pun.  Of slight interest is the textile design which is an art deco design that also calls to mind the designs placed in Gustav Klimt's paintings.  The form of this image is less importnat than its context and iconography which are linked together.Iconography and Context:  Duchamp loved the idea of double meanings.  In 1920 Duchamp had already created some of his so called "ready mades" which take everyday objects and transform them into something else.  Here, Duchamp took himself as a sort of "ready made" and had a bit of fun with identity, gender, and puns when he created this alter ego in 1920.
In essence, he is playing with the French phrase "selavy" which means "leave it be" or "what will be, will be" and coupling it with the name Rose, that he intentionally misspells to mke the "r" sound a bit like a growl.  He is basically being like a drag queen who is not necessarily "gay."  Sort of like the skits that Milton Berl did in the 1950's.

¹avant-garde n [F, vanguard] (1910): an intelligentsia that develops new or experimental concepts esp. in the arts -- avant-gard.ism n -- n ²avant-garde adj (1925): of or relating to an avant-garde <~ writers>

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