The Norton Simon Museum, located in Pasadena, recently unveiled their latest exhibition, “Duchamp to Pop.” The show features the creations of the innovative modern artist while tracing a link between Duchamp and his American followers. With works by Andy Warhol, Ed Ruscha and others, the exhibit utilizes the museum’s archives and history to survey the extensive influence of the revolutionary French artist.
The pieces from these archives once composed the seminal exhibitions, “New Painting of Common Objects” (1962) and “Marcel Duchamp Retrospective” (1963). The former was the first-ever pop art exhibition in a museum and represents a milestone for the growing movement.
Curatorial Associate Tom Norris sought to select the best works from both of the previous exhibits and supplement them with a handful of loans. In doing so, Norris provided a window into the prominent artistic styles of the 1960s. The five decades that have passed since the original shows lend “Duchamp to Pop” the power of retrospect.
“Duchamp to Pop” boasts over 40 works that pay tribute to Duchamp’s creative influence. Artists include Jim Dine, Robert Dowd and Wayne Thiebaud.
Juxtaposed with the gloominess of the museum’s basement where the exhibition hall lies, the medley of colors and shapes that fill the white-walled room give the viewer pause. Most striking is Duchamp’s “Bottle Rack.” A thorny metal structure, 50 hooked spikes protrude from the piece’s ringed frame. It broods menacingly in the far corner of the gallery, casting an aura of foreboding over the bright room. Though the product was originally designed to dry emptied glass bottles, Duchamp bought the appliance at a market in Paris and declared it to be a work of art. Thus the readymade was born — manufactured objects repurposed by artists and turned into sculptures. The piece displayed at the Norton Simon is a near perfect replica; the original piece was lost over a century ago. In a twist of irony, Duchamp’s sister mistook the artwork for garbage and it threw away when cleaning out his Paris apartment in 1914. One can imagine why she wanted the jagged metal rack gone; it inspires a gripping sense of unease.
Duchamp explained in a 1953 interview that choosing an object to become a readymade allowed the artist “to redefine the idea of aesthetic consideration as a choice of the mind, rather than the ability or cleverness of the hand.” This reevaluation of the role of the artist is echoed in many of the works in the show. Norris included a replica of Duchamp’s “Bottle Rack,” the first readymade in art history, as well as Warhol’s “Brillo Boxes.” Directly inspired by Duchamp’s appropriations, “Brillo Boxes” was originally exhibited much to the chagrin of traditionalists who did not see a stack of cardboard boxes bearing the label of a cleaning product as a art. Reproduced in its original arrangement, Warhol’s cardboard pyramid stands before the viewer as a grand monument to kitsch.
The exhibit shows how Duchamp’s innovations led to Pop art, a new and popular art form in the 1960s that arose as a response to the proliferation of the advertisement industry and consumerism in the U.S. following World War II. This style often used commercial products as pieces of art, isolating or recombining them in order to give them new meaning, thus challenging the logic of marketing.
Several of Warhol’s “Campbell’s Soup Cans,” an iconic series of paintings that has come to represent pop art as a whole, are on display alongside Duchamp’s readymades. By placing the works across from each other, the curation signifies the dialogue between the artists.
Duchamp’s style and bold boundary breaking set an example for much of the transgressional art in the the 1960s. “Duchamp to Pop” brings this artistic relationship to light by physically placing influencer and response in the same room and reestablishes the Norton Simon Museum as one of the first-ever exhibitors of this style of artwork.
The Norton Simon Museum is a 10-minute drive from Occidental. Admission is free for students who show a school ID card. The exhibit is open until Aug. 29