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Berlin (diary) – and painting – February 2015

Bulletin 1:

Colour first: grey, of course, but not warm grey – bluish, blackish, Paynes grey with white, p...

Berlin Diary – February 2015

February 7, 2015

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The Bride and the Bachelors

June 2, 2013

Exhibition at the Barbican art gallery, London.


Duchamp with Cage, Cunningham, Rauschenberg and Johns


just caught this before it ends on 9th june 2013. came recommended by friends. one had seen it 4 or 5 times.


part of the impact was the way that curator, Philippe Parreno, uses the space. the barbican art gallery – with its openness, its modernity, its levels – felt as if it had been made for this exhibition which fed on ideas of presence and absence, on movement, on openness to ideas and possibilities.


‘the exchange of ideas around the duality of presence and absence’.

as you moved through the exhibition you were struck by how much invitation there was to look through glass – (‘the bride stripped bare by her bachelors, even’ – what bride? which bachelors? why her bachelors? – and doesn’t that ‘her’ anyway address and undercut the idea of the objectified, stripped woman?) why that strange addition of ‘even’? and it does suggest a dance, doesn’t it? 


there were dancers there on the saturday afternoon. dressed in careful grey and black, moving with balanced grace, robotic gestures that made them seem the more human. control edging all the time right up against its loss. by late afternoon they were exhausted.


the pianos played themselves with a rigid puritannical beauty. seen from above they gleamed in gold and brown and black.


the wit and elegance of duchamp, of Johns, of Rauschenberg. R blurted out colour which shone against the monochrome of the rest.


my friend told me that the first time she encountered life drawing she was shown ‘nude descending a staircase’ and told to draw the moving figure of the model being paraded in front of her – in 2 minutes.  she was encountering duchamp raw, unmediated, like a cataclysm.


that movement is ecstatic, revelatory, life changing. that and R.Mutt’s urinal put a dead stopper on everything, everything that art made before the moment that duchamp decided that this, this was the way to throw chance and disarray and chaos right into the centre of the way everyone saw the world.


cage’s music and cunningham’s dance gave 3 dimensional perspective to the visual explosions rocketing from duchamp. there are postcards of some early works by duchamp – conventional, even boring. makes me think of wilfred owen’s poetry – ordinary georgian stuff – until he hit the trenches and found that he had to speak in a new and urgent language. Was R. Mutt’s urinal the only possible response duchamp could make to those same horrors?


visually, intellectually, every which way, this is still massively important and disturbing stuff. it doesn’t matter that we’ve seen it before, know all about it, take it for granted. duchamp’s greatness shouts out, loud and clear across the decades, right out of the depths of the last century.


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