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Art as concept: Duchamp, In Advance of the Broken Arm

Video transcript

in the years during the First World War this art movement called Dada began and one of the most Dada yeah and what how do you spell that's da da it was really a nonsense word and that's why it was called that and the idea was to create a kind of anti art to kind of challenge what art was you know the world was in flames the war was raging across Europe and artists didn't want to have any part of it they wanted to show how absurd and how dangerous the world had gotten and one of the artists who was a Dada artist - his name was Marcel Duchamp began to create what we call ready-mades or what he called ready-mades some of them were assisted ready-mades where he would take two objects that existed in the world and put them together and some objects were just pure ready-mades and one of my favorite is called in advance of a broken arm in advance of a broken arm and we're looking at it on the left here and you had to explicitly tell me that it was long ago just so just to make this clear this is in advance of a broken arm that's exactly right and you had to point that out because we have a very similar piece on the right hand side right over here which I just got off of Amazon which is a snow shovel and really they're not much different at all are they no they both seem like snow shovels they are both snow shovels except the do shop has taken his snow shovel out of the garage or out of the hardware store yes um and relocated it sort of reframed it and said no this is a ready-made this is something to look at and to understand within an aesthetic sphere I'm thinking what I think many people are thinking okay he did that and I mean it seems like what he did was a very cynical act which was like here's art for you all you Jokers I'm gonna go buy a snow shovel and stick it in a museum and I don't know I feel like he's like laughing at people I think that there is definitely cynicism here and I think that this is very much related to the objectives of data which was to undermine the way in which we valued art the way in which we understood art saying that the world had become a place of chaos and a kind of dangerous chaos and the artist wanted to in some ways have nothing to do with that any longer so how can I most undermine in a sense destroy the way in which we had defined art to create a kind of anti art I think that's exactly right and was was he like the first person could you know after you know we just talked about Warhol and we said oh you know now someone took a like a piece of advertising stuck it in the museum would feel very derivative but Warhol did that while after Duchamp so to some degree it feels like now Warhol was derivative because Duchamp went the full you know Warhol actually had to do something work he actually like actually painted a soup can but this guy I mean he he's I mean he's way ahead of his time he literally just bought a snow shovel and showed up Duchamp would say however that finding a perfect ready-made wasn't an easy thing he went on a hunt and that most objects did not suit his definition of what a perfect ready-made would be you know he is creating a kind of narrative here I mean what do you think of when he when you put that snow shovel together with the title it to me it looks like a parody it I mean you know in advance of a broken arm yeah he went and bought a snow shovel and and and he called it in advance of a broken arm which is a very kind of fancy sounding title which you know makes you think a little bit but yeah yeah and so so so I think you're absolutely right I think it's sort of impossible and here's their even more absurd part we're looking at a photograph not of the original in advance of the broken arm but actually of a later snow shovel that he replaced the original with after the first had been lost perhaps to a snow storm yeah oh yeah we read we read August 1964 fourth version after lost original in November 1915 so it I guess well can you even have an original can you can well exactly because there's probably a hundred of those originals so let's play this out for a moment imagine that this came up to auction and it went to Sotheby's it went to Christie's it went to one of the big auction houses and it's a Duchamp it's this important example of Dada and so the auction is going to start at some very high no yes right it's gonna start at two million dollars yeah but then somebody but is that really what this might go for these are priceless objects except that somebody could walk in to the Home Depot or go onto Amazon as we are their grandfather's barn or so that's right you know imagine they could get past the guards at Christie's and walk into the showroom with their own snow shovel and there would be no difference physically between the snow shovel that's up on the podium that's for sale that's for auction and it's reaching these astronomical figures versus the snow shovel that's worth you know $29.99 so that's a fascinating question because they're exactly there except physically identical snow shovels and one was touched by Duchamp and placed in a museum and another thousand were not and because of that this one is this one could go for millions so you started off by saying is Duchamp being cynical and I think in some ways he really is he's trying to make in a sense the apparatus of the art market transparent he's trying to force us to grapple with how we define what art is and how it's important and maybe that our values are really misplaced in some way but he's also pointing to something else which is that art is not necessarily in the 20th century located in the practice of its making located in the proficiency of the artists and their brushwork but it's located in the sort of symbolic language that art can evoke in the way that art can transform the way that we see the world so I'm actually becoming a bit of a fan of Duchamp but IIIi think there's a and I'm also thinking of becoming an avant-garde artist so what is you know in the same like I want to do I want to do an art installation called breath of air which is I will go to that location that little part of volume of the and I'll just exhale right there and we'll just put like a little placard that someone had exhaled at this point and it was that would push thinking in art where the art object does not even exist you know what it'll disperse through the museum you you've missed your moment because art was made like that in the 70s oh I miss that I read someone's literally created art that does not exist or art that exists as a kind of performative act oh yeah yeah yeah this this one's a difficult one I'm um I mean yeah yeah s is about as tough as it gets yeah sure what's your take on it I'll push I mean in advance of a broken arm you does what do you make I mean I agree actually with everything you said that like he has introduced this he's challenging people's notions of are challenging the art market challenging all of these but it's done in my mind it seems like in a very cynical way that I'm gonna put a very mundane object on there and make people like bid on it and think of it as art I mean what would eat what do you think of this name advance of a broken arm and that it's you know gets all this special soul case and the fact that it costs the same as a you know a $5 slow shovel you can get Home Depot you know when we think about poetry for example we we don't worry about the cost of the typeface we think about where that poetry brings us emotionally and intellectually it transforms us it changes us and so it's interesting that in the visual arts we are still so tied to the handicraft Duchamp is really distancing art from the handicraft and making it a purely conceptual process and so he's really sort of forcing that issue and I think an important way that has really challenged the 20th century and made contemporary art possible so I definitely so I that's interesting so what you're saying is is that he's really sick like like poetry poetry is really the idea of the poetry someone can copy and paste that poet we can all share that poetry there's no physical words there and he kind of did the same that's the idea and that's why he was able to take another shovel and do it again and again and again but it still I mean we say that but at the same time the art market does not necessarily view it that way they view this shovel as being somehow holy verses the other shovel that was made on the same assembly line is not nowhere near as holy I think that's exactly right and in some ways Duchamp failed in some ways I think the avarice of the art market has prevailed despite his attempt to undermine it you know we still would auction this at a very high price and we would still differentiate the two shovels and we would still value one over the other in a sense we her own size the object that is somehow connected to the conceptual even though I think to shop in some ways was really focus on you know separating those things and what about I mean just going back to the name I mean I can kind of buy some of this and in that he's really challenging what is art and it's the idea of putting focus on something like this but at the same time it seems like his the title is a little bit uppity as verse I mean why did he just call it snow shovel like why can't something just call stuff or why didn't he just call it blank I mean why did you have to say in advance of a broken arm I'm not gonna pretend to know exactly what his motivations were but I think that the cynicism that you spoke of before is exactly his point here he's almost creating a narrative and some of my students have said they could imagine that somebody slipped on the ice and broke their arm and that there really is this rope I could imagine of it you know I could we could call this piece in advance of a cherry pie yeah I mean you know I could imagine that after working a long day shoveling snow I will go eat a cherry pie yes I mean right and the fun thing to name this piece of art and I think that notion of absurdity was really central to to duchamp's practice and what he was interested in and I think he wanted us to sort of bump up against the absurdity of that title and to be challenged by it fascinating you