BY Monique Richter

Showcasing over 100 artworks from Marcel Duchamp, the Art Gallery of New South Wales were not kidding when they described the exhibition as “The most in-depth survey of the art and life of Marcel Duchamp ever to be seen in the Asia-Pacific region”. 

Before you even enter the exhibition, there is a free “pre-exhibition” display of artworks that have been inspired by Marcel Duchamp, including works from Jeff Koons, Sir Tony Cragg, and Rebecca Horn. An added detail that was not required, but definitely appreciated.

In the exhibition itself, there are about five separate rooms, each dedicated to distinctive periods in Duchamp’s artistic career. Starting with his early fascination in Impressionism and his more recognisable cubist work, followed by his famous “Readymades”, which is then bookended with his final work Étant donnés that he worked on for 20 years.

Aptly named The Essential Duchamp, the exhibition is a thorough exploration of Duchamp and his evolving art. A particularly informative aspect of the exhibition were the biographical paragraphs that greet you at the start of each section, as they effectively tie in the recurrent themes that pervaded his art throughout his career and what was happening in Duchamp’s life at the time.

The rooms became dimmer and dimmer as you traverse Duchamp’s artistic biography, and although this was a practical choice intended to protect fragile artworks, it unintentionally contributes to an almost eerie atmosphere. The final display of Étant donnés, an artwork that was only revealed after his death, is haunting. The small, dark enclosed space and a lifeless body was Duchamp’s curtain call.

Although this exhibition is certainly essential for those who particularly appreciate Duchamp’s art, it is also essential for everyone else, as the ripples of Duchamp’s influence pervade art and culture to this day.

If you want to catch the Essential Duchamp, the exhibition finishes up on 11 August 2019 at the Art Gallery of New South Wales.

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