Tuesday, December 11, 2007

Art History: Contemporary: Duchamp vs. Boccioni

Modernist Approach to the Comparison of Duchamp’s Bicycle Wheel and Boccioni’s Unique Forms of Continuity in Space.

In both, Bicycle Wheel and Unique Forms of Continuity in Space, the primary focus is movement, either actual or implied. What separates them from each other is the intent that drove the artist. While both artists fall under the Futurist Movement, there was a distinct difference in their motivation.

Duchamp and Boccioni are both considered futurists and true to that movement, they are interested in the idea of motion in art. The futurists were enthralled with the idea of the mechanical as both beautiful and progressive. They saw the art world as stagnant and in need of revolution. Their “out with the old-in with the new” approach embraced the development of found object and collage art. Whether they succeeded in abandoning the work and views of the old masters is open to interpretation. What isn’t in question is that their destructive, violent viewpoint eventually led to Fascism and WWI, which they wholeheartedly embraced.

Like most futurists, Duchamp sought to change the face and definition of art. The avenue that he took was to disrupt the relationship between the idea and the actuality of what we conceive art to be. This abandonment and destruction of established signs was tantamount to the movement of the day. Bicycle Wheel was the first of Duchamp’s Readymade pieces, in which he took found objects and with very little alteration, simply called them art. It is helpful to know, when considering this particular piece, that Duchamp did not have an artistic intent when he created it. This knowledge makes the piece more valid to me then his other Readymade pieces. I can appreciate the idea that Bicycle Wheel was created very much in the spirit of what the futurists believed in, the love of the mechanical, the appreciation of motion, the recycling of everyday materials and, that Duchamp created it out of a love for the components, to please only himself and no one else.

Boccioni took a different approach to the incorporation of motion to a work of art. Instead of tackling the problem literally like Duchamp did, Boccioni uses a fluid, wind blown look which depicts the rapid motion of the stationary figure very well. It is interesting that although Boccioni believed in the futuristic idea of the destruction of all art before it and a separation from the masters, he chose to cast the figure in bronze which I feel is much more of a “masters technique” than the more mundane methods that the futurists were typically using. The choice of bronze was perhaps to aid in the appearance of a mechanical-man, shiny and beautiful as the futurists must have dreamed such a being would be. I believe this piece is highly successful if utterly different from Bicycle Wheel, however, one wonders which piece more closely achieved the artist intent.

From a modernist standpoint I would be inclined to choose Bicycle Wheel because it more closely represents the views outlined in the Futurist Manifesto. However, as a viewer without knowledge of the intent, a post-modernist viewpoint, I would say that Unique Forms of Continuity in Space is more successful because it combines the concept of motion into an otherwise stationary piece. In that way Duchamp kind of cheated by making his piece literally mobile.

In either case, the art of the futurists was a direct response and rebellion against all art before it. I find it inconceivable that any artist would not only want to abandon what others had learned but to actually destroy the art of others in order to make theirs more important. Iconoclasm was certainly something that had occurred before but this may have been the first time that such an action was supported by the media, art world, and government. It is interesting to look at the fact that the art world was indeed somewhat stagnant at the time and the futurist, German expressionists, and cubists were the ones that changed everything. Without these innovators opening the door there may never have been dada, surrealism or, in fact, any of what we consider contemporary art and everyone might still be painting Venus on the half shell and dancing fates.

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