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Friday, October 15, 2010

Nude Descending a Staircase, No. 2

(Nude Descending a Staircase, No. 2
by Marcel Duchamp, 1887-1968, French

This painting by the French avant-garde artist Marcel Duchamp created a great scandal the first two times it was exhibited.

The image violated the classical Greek ideal of the nude. “A nude never descends the stairs — a nude reclines,” declared Duchamp’s two brothers, who then removed the painting from a Paris show in 1912. The
New York Times art critic, writing about its presence in a New York show in 1913, ridiculed it as “an explosion in a shingle factory.”

One American art magazine even offered a prize to the first person who could point out the nude.

Times do change.

The painting is of a nude indeed, taking five steps down the stairs, but it is composed of cones, cubes, and cylinders layered on top of each other to produce an image of kinetic cubism, of time entering space. In this work, Duchamp was influenced by the stop-motion work of photographers like the French Étienne-Jules Marey and the English Earweard Muybridge.

(Motion by Étienne-Jules Marey, 1830-1904, French
scientist and chronophotographer)

The poet X. J. Kennedy took up the challenge of that art magazine — he has found the nude in this painting.


Toe after toe, a snowing flesh,
a gold of lemon, root and rind,
she sifts in sunlight down the stairs
with nothing on. Nor on her mind.

We spy beneath the banister
a constant thresh of thigh on thigh;
her lips imprint the swinging air
that parts to let her parts go by.

One-woman waterfall, she wears
her slow descent like a long cape
and pausing on the final stair,
collects her motions into shape.

~ X. J. Kennedy, born 1929, American poet, translator, and editor

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

I think that's exactly what Duchamp wanted from the audience, the confusion, the scandal. He wanted to do the complete opposite of what artist were doing. We can see that with Duchamp's ready-made's.