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in the Philadelphia Museum of Art looking at a large piece of broken glass a work of art by Marcel Duchamp this is the bride stripped bare by her bachelors even also known as the large glass dates to 1915 but he worked on it till 1923 made many studies wrote a book about it and declared it in 1923 definitively unfinished when he would eventually unpack it after it been shipped relating to an exhibition at the Brooklyn Museum and he found that both large panes had been shattered he declared it complete and he reassembled all the pieces of glass and decades later he installed it here at the Philadelphia Museum of Art this is not a painting they're not even painted pieces of glass instead he's using lead wire lead foil and dust which he said he cultivated in his apartment in New York City that he used as the pictorial material the trace of glass is a funny one because in western painting there's an idea of painting as a window through which we look into a world that says real is the world that we're standing in but this is so definitively abstracted so unreal but it's interesting because this work of art is not the kind of abstraction that we think of often when we think of work that's being produced in 1915 by people like Kazmir Malkovich or even Picasso this is not in that tradition of formal abstraction of geometries this is an abstraction of ideas when we look closely we do start to see forms that are recognizable the shop actually created what he called the green box this was a small container that included notes and clippings that describe the meanings and the elements within the large glass but what's interesting is that the green box contain loose pieces of paper that can be read in any order so that the meaning is always in flux nevertheless he does name specific elements but we shouldn't look for certainties of meaning anywhere here absolutely an art historians have sometimes fallen into a trap of trying to be definitive nevertheless if we start at the bottom on the left side we see a series of forms which Duchamp called Malik molds Malik was a word that just simply for Duchamp met male a word that he made up he often created linguistic forms in the center at the bottom we see what he referred to as a chocolate grinder above that a series of sieves and giant scissors and to the right a little bit difficult to see and seen obliquely our optical devices so what are we to make of the female realm and the male realm the bachelors at the bottom and the bride at the top clearly the realm of male and female but also a sense of sexual desire the bride stripped bare by her bachelors we have a sense of male suitors of male desire and of the availability of a female form that stimulates that desire or lack of availability one of the ways that the large glass is read is that its desire that powers the machinery that activates everything that's being rendered here both in the realm of the female and the realm of the male but none of it consummated it feels to me like he's making fun of the way that especially in the 19th and 20th century human beings try to make things rational try to explain things even things as absurd as human desire and the way in which the rational could be dangerous think about when this was made this was made in 1915 this was during the First World War one of the most violent conflicts in human history and what was so startling about that war is that it took place with modern machinery the machine gun early tanks mustard gas there was a level of violence that was thanks to our industrial rational world and here we see the reintroduction of the irrational then you could argue - and of course this is an important part of the Dada East movement in the early 20th century that art in many ways the sale of art the marketability of art the schools of art all of these institutions were part of a system that led to the violence of the war and so how could art be outside of that well Duchamp is rejecting oil-on-canvas he's rejecting bronze sculpture marble sculpture and he's trying to find a way to deconstruct the meanings that have always driven the desire of the art market and not only were the materials not traditional but the method of making wasn't traditional either there was chance that was introduced there was absurdity in the construction of the object itself a good example of that can be seen in the holes that are drilled in the upper right corner and the idea behind this reminds us that there really is interaction between the two realms the male's shoot upward trying to hit those squares that we see in the kind of thought bubble in the kind of imagination of the female we do have the sense at the bottom of China's endless machine processing this frustrated desire that's not fulfilled and violence in the male realm that shoots towards the female and the holes that were seeing that are drilled are actually the result of Duchamp firing a toy cannon at the upper area missing the female form but then the artist would drill wherever the toy cannon actually hit the glass so we have this immediate difficulty because we want to have an idea of art that is something that's intentionally made by the artist that's beautifully crafted and firing a toy cannon and then drilling where that toy cannon hits completely turns that idea upside down and can be seen as a kind of direct attack on the notion of intentionality and a reintroduction of the idea of the irrational so how do we not read that as also a making fun of us who are here looking at this art so very seriously that he fired a toy cannon at there's no question that much of Deschamps work including the large glass functions is a kind of entrapment for art historians for the traditions through which we understand art in the Western tradition Duchamp's approach to creating art would have a profound impact especially on the second half of the 20th century people like jasper johns or robert rauschenberg or so many of the artists of the post-war era that have we thought the foundational ideas that have driven art for so long when we were looking at this work I was looking originally for a signature because for Duchamp the signature was so important in transforming what he called a ready-made into a work of art that is of transforming a ready-made object in the world something that he had not created into something that we looked at differently but this work is itself inherently a signature the top is the realm of the bride and the first three letters of the word in French for bride is Mar ma are the bottom the first three letters of the word for bachelor would be cell CL and together they spell of course his first name so the entire work is in a sense a kind of wordplay and a kind of signature