The Large Glass


 

The Bride Stripped Bare by Her Bachelors, Even (La mariée mise à nu par ses célibataires, même), most often called The Large Glass (Le Grand Verre), is an artwork by Marcel Duchamp over nine feet (2.75 metres) tall, and freestanding. Duchamp worked on the piece from 1915 to 1923, creating two panes of glass with materials such as lead foil, fuse wire, and dust. It combines chance procedures, plotted perspective studies, and laborious craftsmanship. Duchamp’s ideas for the Glass began in 1913, and he made numerous notes and studies, as well as preliminary works for the piece. The notes reflect the creation of unique rules of physics, and myth which describes the work.

It is at first sight baffling in iconograhy and unclassifiable style. Yet this glass construction is not a discrete whole. The Bride Stripped Bare by Her Bachelors, Even is also the title given to The Green Box notes (1934) as Duchamp intended the Large Glass to be accompanied by a book, in order to prevent purely visual responses to it. The notes describe that his “hilarious picture” is intended to depict the erotic encounter between the “Bride,” in the upper panel, and her nine “Bachelors” gathered timidly below in an abundance of mysterious mechanical apparatus in the lower panel. The Large Glass was exhibited in 1926 at the Brooklyn Museum before it was broken during transport and carefully repaired by Duchamp. It is now part of the permanent collection at the Philadelphia Museum of Art. Duchamp sanctioned replicas of The Large Glass, the first in 1961 for an exhibition at Moderna Museet in Stockholm and another in 1966 for the Tate Gallery in London. The third replica is in Komaba Museum, University of Tokyo.

Duchamp’s art does not lend itself to simple interpretations, and The Large Glass is no exception. Most critics, however, read the piece as an exploration of male and female desire as they complicate each other. One critic, for example, describes the basic layout as follows: “The Large Glass has been called a love machine, but it is actually a machine of suffering. Its upper and lower realms are separated from each other forever by a horizon designated as the ‘bride’s clothes.’ The bride is hanging, perhaps from a rope, in an isolated cage, or crucified. The bachelors remain below, left only with the possibility of churning, agonized masturbation.”

However, modern critics see the painting as an expression of the artist to ridicule criticism. Marjorie Perloff interprets the painting as “enigmatic” in her book The Poetics of Indeterminacy: Rimbaud to Cage (Princeton UP: 1999). She concludes that Duchamp’s “Large Glass is also a critique of the very criticism it inspires, mocking the solemnity of the explicator who is determined to find the key”. Hence, she follows the school of deconstruction established by the French philosopher Jacques Derrida and helps to break down the hegemony of interpretation held by the Enlightenment bourgeoisie. To quote the artist: “I believe that the artist doesn’t know what he does. I attach even more importance to the spectator than to the artist.”

 

Photo-printing from R.E.M.’s New Adventures in Hi-Fi (1996) CD booklet, taken by Ian McFarlane.

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