The Duchamp Dictionary || Thomas Girst

This innovative book breaks though the academic barriers and impenetrable vocabulary of most of the writing on Duchamp and makes the artist as accessible as he deserves to be, it says here. It also adds that the book is illustrated by Luke Frost and Therese Vandling (the Heretic of the title page). Not Duchamp then, which would seem to be a major stumbling block.

It is also printed on off-white paper using blue and red ink and highlights all the (numerous) quotes from the artist himself. It’s not easy on the eye and doesn’t invite lengthy reading. However, that’s not really the point of a dictionary, which is to be used either for reference or to be dipped into. I’ve said before that I’m a great fan of serendipity and I certainly enjoy something that can be opened at random and where an initial paragraph provokes thoughts that lead to further entries and discoveries that become an end in themselves rather than a deliberate search for knowledge or elucidation.

Duchamp is, of course, most famous for the ready-made Fountain, the form and purpose of which can be argued over until the bar stops serving. Art, criticism and satire all at once, it was (and remains) a masterpiece of both direction and misdirection and evinces both seriousness and playfulness at the same time, qualities which the present work, I think, reflects rather neatly.

The idea of a dictionary, especially a Duchamp dictionary is absurd and absurdist. But it is also intriguing and you want to know what the author is up to and how he achieves whatever it is he does achieve. Entries are Quixotic and gnomic and range from the Stettenheimer sisters to food (his tastes were really quite surreal), Warhol and, inevitably, Fountain.

It’s a lot of fun and I do find myself warming to it, but I’m also sure I’d do so more if I was more of a Duchamp fan.

Click the picture to view on Amazon

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