Étant Donnés

Elena Filipovic at The Brooklyn Rail:

One bleary morning in a darkened art history classroom—think Modernism 101—a slide of the interior of Étant donnés: 1° la chute d’eau / 2° le gaz d’éclairage (1946-1966) flashed by. Its glimmering afterimage remained in my mind’s eye long after. One might say it never really left. I still remember how rattled I was as I tried to make sense of it. The odd installation didn’t fit into what was being taught as modern art at the time, yet conversely—perversely—it nominally coincided with enough of what art history syllabi then encompassed: female nudity mediated by a male gaze, corporeality framed by idyllic landscapes. What perhaps shook me most, however, was that it didn’t tally at all with what I was just learning about the art of its maker. Duchamp, the painter turned cool conceptualist. Duchamp, father of the readymade and chess-playing lover of puns. Duchamp, the sometime art dealer, occasional crossdresser, and elegant prankster who had definitively “retired” by the 1930s. Even if these myriad “Duchamps”already indicated a great flexibility regarding the concept of art and artist, it was Etant donnés, I thought, that didn’t fit. And I was not alone in thinking so.

more here.