Short Read

My Favourite Artwork: The Bride Stripped Bare by Her Bachelors, Even (The Large Glass)

screen-shot-2017-01-26-at-7-46-52-pmImage via The Philadelphia Museum of Art

What: The Bride Stripped Bare by Her Bachelors, Even (The Large Glass)

Artist: Marcel Duchamp

Type: Painting, Mixed Media

Year: 1915-1923

Medium: Oil, varnish, lead foil, lead wire and dust on two glass panels

Subject: A Bride, Bachelors and various abstract apparatuses

Where: Philadelphia Museum of Art; replicas in Stockholm, London and Tokyo

screen-shot-2017-01-26-at-7-47-22-pmImage via The Philadelphia Museum of Art

Why: I was introduced to this work during one of my favourite architecture lectures at uni by a lecturer who no longer works there, for a course that no longer exists. I remember being equally in awe of the work and its description. Twin panels of glass, roughly 3 by 2 metres that took the light in from a strategically placed window, which you then had to walk completely around and examine thoroughly to get all of the detail and even then, the content resists interpretation. The scale of the work isn’t communicated in images, and I struggle to visualise it in place; making a tantalising reminder of how different it must be engaging with its surroundings spatially, especially for someone who has never seen it in the flesh.

How the work engages with space makes it both historically fascinating and relevant for spatial practitioners today. The work is formally composed in a way that is easily discernible, providing a way of interpreting the entire image without restricting the expressiveness of its constituent parts; they sort of just float there in the canvas equivalent to an ‘open plan’*. Separated into their halves, the figures interact, providing tantalising hints of a meaningful narrative if the viewer is inclined to find one, but leaving that ambiguous. The material textures are complementary but their eclecticism, again, challenges conventional interpretation; the viewer is finally left appreciating the simple aesthetic interactions of a palette specific to the work, the place, and time of viewing.

screen-shot-2017-01-26-at-7-48-22-pmImage via The Philadelphia Museum of Art

Duchamp famously meant to have a written ‘guide’ to accompany his work. I like to imagine it would’ve worked like a catalogue, a record of the artist naming and explaining things in the work as they came to him, placing the subject matter (which is helpfully dissected by generations of art critics) second to the spontaneous acts of creation that produce them. Even to be able to name something (The Large Glass) after the fact is a strong indication that you’ve created something greater than the whole of its parts.

*The cracks, which were an accidental result of transporting the works were kept because Duchamp thought they accentuated the dynamics of his piece. And they sort of do! Centring on figures and branching out to the edges. Perhaps it had something to do with the physical structure of the materials in the piece lining up nicely with the imagery.*

Legacy: Duchamp famously deconstructed what constitutes a work of art, but then gradually reasserts the ability of his medium to capture and communicate in ways only it can.

– Tin Do

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