Now on view at the Norton Simon Museum, Duchamp to Pop examines Marcel Duchamp’s influence on Pop Art and the artists at that movement’s center like Andy Warhol, Jim Dine and Ed Ruscha.
Curatorial Associate Tom Norris built the exhibition with inspiration from two landmark exhibitions that took place in the 1960’s at the Pasadena Art Museum (which later became the Norton Simon Museum): New Painting of Common Objects (1962), and the Marcel Duchamp Retrospective in 1963.
Duchamp to Pop brings together 40 artworks from the Museum’s collection of 20th-century art, along with a handful of loans, and materials from the archives of the Pasadena Art Museum. We walked through the exhibition with Norris.
Tom Norris: Duchamp has always been a hero of mine, and those two 1960’s exhibitions showed Duchamp’s influence on more than just the eight original artists from New Painting of Common Objects. That part of the museum’s history still has a potentency today. People still deal with the idea of the Readymade, and still deal with popular culture–it still resonates. And Duchamp’s influence reverberates throughout our collection. He was having these mid-century artists question what it means to make a piece of art work, where it comes from and why they were doing things. As we walk away from the exhibition, I think we’ll be questioning what it means as well.
Sheila Tepper: It’s interesting that this Frenchman, who came from a city of Impressionism, decided to come to America and had this great show here in Pasadena.
Tom Norris: It’s sort of typical of who Duchamp was, that he had his exhibition in Pasadena. You would expect a French artist to have his big retrospective in Paris, or for an emigre to New York to have his big retrospective in New York, but this was sort of on the outskirts of the art world, at the time, and I think he enjoyed that. You had to come seek him out, rather them him putting himself in front of you.
Tom Norris by Andy Warhol’s Brillo Boxes.
Marcel Duchamp – Bottlerack, 1963
Tom Norris: Bottlerack is one of Duchamp’s first “Readymades.” In 1916, Duchamp wrote to his sister Suzanne in Paris and said, “grab this bottlerack from my studio and sign my name to it. It is an art work already made. It is a Readymade.” Bottlerack is down the way from Warhol’s Brillo Boxes, and it’s a good comparison, because Warhol is the epitome of Pop Art who comes about 50 years after Duchamp. We are more ready to accept Warhol, because as viewers, we’ve been inundated with his images. But Duchamp’s Readymades came into the art world much earlier. The Warhol Brillo Boxes isn’t quite a Readymade, because they were fabricated, not taken straight off a shelf.
Tom Norris: These are 100 Brillo boxes that were made right here in the San Gabriel valley for the 1970 exhibition that opened the new Pasadena Art Museum at the corner of Orange Grove and Colorado. They’re not often all seen out, or seen all 100 together.
Sheila Tepper: So what was Warhol’s thinking behind his version of a Readymade?
Tom Norris: Well, he was a commercial illustrator first, and coming from commerce, he knew the power of images and that’s what he was bringing to the art world. Once he realized the impact that images could have on the art world and how they can convey importance and fetch a price, he just ran with it.
Joe Goode – Screwdriver, 1962
Tom Norris: This is one of Joe Goode’s first lithographs and he was one of the eight original artists in the Pasadena Art Museum exhibit New Painting of Common Objects in 1962. In the image, the screwdriver is ready to actively engage or disengage a screw and what he’s doing here is relying upon the commonality of things, not necessarily the popular culture of things. So here, the common object is the screwdriver, we all know what that is and he almost doesn’t even define it clearly–it doesn’t have sharp edges–but he knows we will know what it is.
Jim Dine – Hammer Noises, 1962
Tom Norris: This is one by Jim Dine and it’s one of our few loans, it’s from the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art. Jim Dine has used the hammer as a stencil and then attached the very instrument to the canvas. He was also one of the original eight in that Pasadena Art Museum exhibit.
Phillip Hefferton – untitled, 1963
Robert Dowd – Half Dollar, 1962
Tom Norris: Hefferton and Dowd were two more of the original artists from the Pasadena Museum of Art exhibit. They’re both dealing with currency in these paintings. Dowd’s painting is more of a cynical and aggressive take on currency–he’s cutting away letters from the print and he only presents us with half a dollar, so we’re short-changed.
Hefferton brings a bit of wit and humor. He’s presented himself in triplicate as the president who would appear on currency, but in the center image, he’s not even facing us, he’s turned his back to us. That’s him making a bit of a joke.
George Herms – The Librarian, 1960
Tom Norris: For The Librarian, Herms pulled from things around him–detritus and other things from his studio. There’s a step stool and a milkcrate, and books that were in the process of deteriotation. I wanted to include this piece in Duchamp to Pop, because it shows us another way to look at objects we see every day.
Tom Norris: Here you can see part of Roy Lichtenstein’s Long Modern Sculpture (1969). It’s an anomaly for Lichtenstein’s oeuvre. For a brief period he focused on making these brass sculptures that took cues from art deco. These were all tropes he was seeing in New York’s architecture at the time. This piece is one of the longer ones of the set and it’s quite remarkable for our collection and for Lichtenstein. When you think about his work, you think about comic book images and Ben-Day dots, but this is something different.
Left: Andy Warhol – Jacqueline Kennedy ll, 1966
Right: Marcel Duchamp – L.H.O.O.Q. or La Joconde, 1964 (replica of 1919 original)
Tom Norris: In both of these, the artists are relying on us knowing what these images are, or who these people are, but then they’ve taken them on and used them in different ways. Warhol presents us with two images of Jacqueline Kennedy from the famous photo of her at her husband’s funeral procession, but he’s put her here twice to maybe bring her down off of that pedestal and make her more of a relateable person in some way, especially in this moment of pain.
Marcel Duchamp has taken an image of the Mona Lisa and jokingly drawn a mustache and goatee on her to also bring her down from this space of sanctimony and have a little fun with her as an image, as a person, and brought in a sense of humor. The title is also a double entendre, if you say the letters aloud in French, it becomes a sentence about her having a hot rear end.
Duchamp really liked double entendres. The original title of the 1963 retrospective was By or of Marcel Duchamp or Rrose Sélavy. When you say “Rrose Sélavy,” and roll the “r,” it sounds like “eros, c’est la vie” or “eros, this is life.”
See all of these artworks and more in person at the Norton Simon Museum’s Duchamp to Pop, on view through August 29th.
photos courtesy Susie Goodman