Sunday, January 31, 2010


This is an image, which I feel slightly pushes the boundaries of caricature. This is a photo taken by Man Ray of Marcel Duchamp dressed as a woman. Around 1920 Duchamp created the character Rrose Selavy as his feminine altar ego. He signed several of his creations with her name as well as included it in the title of a Dada sculpture, Why not Sneeze, Rrose Selavy? The name itself is a pun which steams from a French phase, meaning " that's life" (or makes a toast to life).

Marcel Duchamp was a playful individual who used the devise of hyperbole in his work, not in the traditional sense, but I would make the argument that his art, including the ready made urinal, Fountain, his alter ego, Rrose Selavy, as well as much of his other work, were visual statements to challenge preconceived notions of art and were intended to shock and generate a response in his viewers.

This image would also come under the category of satire. Duchamp was a leading figure in the Dada movement. Dadaism challenged the ridiculousness of the “modern world”. In a way this picture more than any photograph gives us an insight into the creative personality that was Marcel Duchamp. Yes, he was cocky, yes, his art had a comic playfulness about it, yes, he was smart and very aware and ready to challenge traditional values and notions of art, and Yes he looked pretty good as a woman (ok just kidding). But, in another sense this image is critiquing the viewers more than the artist (or at least the social climate in which the viewers existed). It is satirizing traditional views and values of art. Duchamp dressing up as a woman and signing his work under a rather silly pseudonym takes a little prestige out of the title of artist. Perhaps, the photo credits the artist as a witty individual, but he is also a fool. In Shakespeare’s plays the fools where the smartest characters, and always knew what was going on in the plot, however they almost didn’t matter to the general story line, they where the comic relief. The photo questions the artist role in society. Are artists the comic relief to life or something more? And, is it really such a bad thing to play the fool?

For almost any argument to occur, and not putter out or be one- sided there has to be equally strong feelings on both sides of the issue or there would be no point in arguing. So Duchamp, in making authorship and art a joke in a way, is subverting the opposition. Those who claim that there is such a thing as high art, or that craftsmanship matters, that art must be beautiful or significant, lose their argument because Duchamp has made art a joke, and why would someone spend time arguing about a joke. The pseudonym name Rrose Selavy, a toast to life, is a good summation of the photo. Duchamp and Mark Ray recognize that life, while being serious, is also a game. So, why not make a toast, and have a little fun playing it.


  1. I really like the picture that you picked, Duchamp really looks like a woman. At first glance the picture looks like a picture of a woman. You picked a great example of misleading physiognomy and how we a humans judge based on looks. Even though it is a serious look the message is to have fun, is a really good example. I would not have thought to use a photo and I think you thought about this and took a risk.

  2. This photograph reminds me of the fact that this reading was a study on facial and physical features of humans. I considered it a pseudoscience, much like the name of Duchamp's alter ego.

    I think that this adds to my argument against this "sudden perception of truth" that Lavater speaks of. I agree that we make assumptions but that does not mean its true. This photo looks like a woman, but its not! Its misleading and maybe that was the intention of the artist?