Marcel Duchamp - A Snowshovel Story


The common wisdom now is that just as Picasso dominated the first half of the 20th century and  Duchamp dominated the second half of that century. Of course I'd go further and suggest that Picasso was more a 19th century artist who did his best work early in the 20th century and was a part of a celebrity culture that made him into more than he actually was. Duchamp seems much more a creature of our times, born the same year the bicycle was invented, he had some humility that was quite unusual in the heady days of early modernism. My snowshovel story happened in 1969 when I moved to Minneapolis from California. I rented from the Society of Fine Arts and was issued a  snowshovel on which was the name of the Minneapolis Society of Fine Arts was stenciled, it was a lovely irony given my knowledge of Duchamp's famous readymade snowshovel titled In Advance Of A Broken Arm.This snowshovel became a prized possession which I still have.The idea that art and life go round and round that things come up again and again always fascinated me. I began to wonder if Duchamp was drawing attention to this eternal recurrence, that in the face of life's banalities perhaps art had become such a commonplace thing as well? For me Duchamp opened up a Pandora's Box of thoughts, chief among them the idea that the artist was much more than a decorator for the rich but instead could bring whole new worlds to light. The artist had become an experimental element in the fabric of society. The art would be less shallow and more demanding, the artist had a philosophical function like a shaman the artist found things we didn't notice and showed us a brave new vision where everyone could be an artist. It was the dawn of all that we now know or suppose we know. Duchamp was like Moses leading artists out of the wilderness. And his influence has yet to wane.