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A review by Pauline Flannery for EXTRA! EXTRA!




The Bride and the Bachelors: Duchamp with Cage, Cunningham, Rauschenberg and Johns


Merce Cunningham
Walkaround Time, 1968
Choreography: Merce Cunningham and
stage set and costumes: Jasper Johns
© 1972 by James Klosty


Mise en scene by Philippe Parreno


Barbican Art Gallery


14 February – 9 June 2013


In 1957, Marcel Duchamp said: “the creative act is not performed by the artist alone; the spectator brings the work in contact with the external world…” This describes perfectly the experience of The Bride and the Bachelors the Barbican’s follow up to their hugely successful Bauhaus Exhibition.  Everywhere you look is a visual wonder; everything you hear, part of Philippe Parreno’s clever experiential, organic mise en scene.

The exhibition brings together five artists: choreographer Merce Cunningham, composer John Cage and visual artists Jasper Johns and Robert Rauschenberg; Duchamp through influence, ideas and degrees of intimacy is the creative force. Yet add to this the natural ebb and flow of studied spectatorship, the insistent click of cameras, the moues of appreciation and each of us becomes part of an art manifesto in which ‘chance’ is the aesthetic.

Duchamp caused a stir with his up-turned urinal, Fountain (1917), creating a series of ‘readymades’, advising the likes of Peggy Guggenheim, turned his back on art to devote himself wholly to chess in the most prosaic of ‘chance’ metaphors. Parreno’s dynamic is to synthesise this. It’s a rich, complex narrative dominated on the lower level by Duchamp’s Bride (1912), which through its mechanised parts and sepia tones links to his Nude Descending a Staircase (No 2) (1912) and the colossal The Bride Stripped Bare by Her Bachelors, Even (The Large Glass, replica of 1915 -23 original).


Marcel Duchamp
Nude Descending a Staircase (No. 2),1912
Philadelphia Museum of Art, The Louise and
Walter Arensberg Collection
© Succession Marcel Duchamp, 2013,
ADAGP/Paris, DACS/London

Images from the Bride are simulated in the huge stage set transparencies: Walkaround Time, 1968, by Jasper Johns with Merce Cunningham choreography, or directly referenced in Rauschenberg’s Bride’s Folly, 1959. The ‘main stage,’ a white floor, echoes Rauschenberg’s ‘White Paintings,’ while dancers from the Richard Alston Dance Company and London contemporary Dance School perform against a John Cage soundscape.

Cage’s Erratum Musical, in which notes are sung to match the verb imprimer, means to print. On the upper level is a beautiful calligraphied copy of the score under glass. At either end of the gallery space are two grand pianos on which no one plays. This creative dislocation allows for a curious assimilation of a-rhythmic blends with ‘ghost pianists, ghost dancers’ and ghostly presences.

It is worth taking advantage to view the main stage from both levels. On the lower ground look one way, and you see Duchamp’s Bicycle Wheel, 1913, with its clean cut shadow against the wall, look the other and you see Rauschenberg’s huge Travelogue, 1977, with its drapes of colour and shapes interspersed with ‘chapel’ chairs and bicycle wheels at the base. The mundanity of the wheel unifies each perspective. On the upper level Cunningham’s clean-cut choreography is viewed through the seven transparencies of Walkaround Time (1968).



Robert Rauschenberg
Untitled (Late Kabal American Zephyr), 1985
The Robert Rauschenberg Foundation
© The Robert Rauschenberg Foundation.
DACS, London/VAGA, New York 2013



Upstairs features other treasures, other secrets - Duchampas Belle Haleine, photographed in 1921 by Man Ray. The intimate drama of Jasper John’s M (1962) with appendages WIRE, BRUSH, SCREWS, PULLEY, created through the shadows and light or his Trophy V with its grey palette and mounted elements, together with his huge pieces Dancers on a Plane, (1979), framed by knives, forks and spoons. There is much eclecticism from painted bronzes to the blocks of vibrant colour and texture of Rauschenberg’s Minutiae, (1976).



Marcel Duchamp
Marcel Duchamp as Belle Haleine, 1921
Photograph by Man Ray
Private collection
© Succession Marcel Duchamp, 2013,
ADAGP/Paris, DACS/London
© Man Ray Trust, 2013 / Artists Rights
Society (ARS), New York / ADAGP, Paris


Philippe Parreno’sarchitectural sensory experiments in time, space, sound and light present a series of vivid conversations: presence/absence, sound/silence, stillness/movement, the interstices through which we all slip, but never usually all at once or in such an enriching way. And while Duchamp’s spirit is at the heart of The Bride and the Bachelors, it is each of us who is the ‘chance’ element…Be inspired. Be fascinated. Be involved…

Barbican Art Gallery
Barbican Centre
Silk Street

Art Gallery
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