Thierry de Duve

  • “THIS IS ART”: ANATOMY OF A SENTENCE

    IT IS THE SENTENCE that changed everything: the very definition of an artwork by pure designation, sheer declaration. In this final installment of his series of new essays for Artforum, Thierry de Duve argues that to understand the ways in which we define and view art today, we must analyze the most basic statement one can make about a work of art—the phrase that forms the bedrock of all aesthetic judgment. If, in his previous texts for these pages, the historian and philosopher has moved from the hallowed halls of the nineteenth-century Beaux-Arts Salon to the scandal over Marcel Duchamp’s notorious 1917 readymade, Fountain, to that work’s thundering repercussions throughout the twentieth century, de Duve now parses how a single sentence can mean a world of difference for art.

    Sometimes an expression has to be withdrawn from

    language and sent for cleaning, then it can be put

    back into circulation.

    —Ludwig Wittgenstein1

    AN ONION has been peeled down to its elusive, theoretical core. Each of my five preceding essays in these pages has stripped away one layer and looked underneath at the next, reading the onion as a message because the message had the structure of an onion. The messenger was Marcel Duchamp: First, he revealed himself as the champion—or the Cassandra?—of the “anything goes” and the “everyone is an artist” dogmas, then as the innocent bystander

  • THE INVENTION OF NON-ART: A THEORY

    IN THE FIFTH OF THE SERIES of new essays on the avant-garde for Artforum, historian and philosopher Thierry de Duve investigates the ideas behind one of modernism’s most notorious inventions: non-art, that vexing category of things that reject, trouble, and ultimately expand the definition of art itself. From the nineteenth-century Beaux-Arts system to Marcel Duchamp’s radical readymade Fountain, 1917, to the pluralism of the present day; from the fin-de-siècle ruminations of Stéphane Mallarmé to the aesthetic pronouncements of Clement Greenberg, de Duve reveals the astonishing theoretical

  • THE INVENTION OF NON-ART: A HISTORY

    In the fourth in a series of new essays on the avant-garde for Artforum, historian and philosopher Thierry de Duve continues his groundbreaking excavation of the meaning of Marcel Duchamp’s 1917 Fountain. Here, de Duve argues that to locate the source of the readymade’s legendary insurrection against the category of art, we must look to an even earlier schism: the 1863 exhibition of art rejected from the hallowed French Beaux-Arts institution of the Salon. For it is at the so-called Salon des Refusés—and in the debates that erupted around the work of its most famous participant, Édouard

  • WHY WAS MODERNISM BORN IN FRANCE?

    IN THE THIRD in a series of new essays on the avant-garde for Artforum, historian and philosopher Thierry de Duve’s exploration of Marcel Duchamp’s Fountain leads us to an unexpected place: the nineteenth-century French Salon. The reception of Duchamp’s scandalous readymade—despite its initial rejection in 1917—ultimately led to the watershed pronouncement that “anything can be art.” But de Duve argues that the work’s rippling effect travels in all directions, and here he looks back to the surprising source of Fountain’s true message—that “anyone can be an artist.” The source, he proposes, was a group of upstarts who, in 1880s Paris, claimed independence within that most established of European cultural institutions, the Beaux-Arts academy.

    Every year the jury of the Louvre provokes numerous complaints. . . .

    Eminent artists who do not share the convictions of the jury have

    been excluded from the galleries. There is a simple way to silence

    those complaints: to admit all the submitted works indiscriminately.1

    —Gustave Planche, 1840

    Everyone is an artist; all are trying to make money with their work.2

    —Alexandre de Cailleux, 1840

    IN THE VEGETABLE GARDEN OF MEANINGS, some are carrot-like, others onion-like. The carrots shoot straight, dig deep, have an iron core and a purposive shape; the onions are all involute surface,

  • DON’T SHOOT THE MESSENGER

    IN THE SECOND IN A SERIES of new essays on the avant-garde for Artforum, historian and philosopher THIERRY DE DUVE picks up where he left off last month—contemplating the reception of Marcel Duchamp’s iconic readymade Fountain upon its first appearance, in 1917, and then in a 1960s culture steeped in utopic ambition. Looking anew at long held myths of modernism, de Duve here examines the artistic and institutional legacy of the most notorious artwork of our time, which was rejected by the Society of Independent Artists, only to have a monumental effect—and a nearly equally consequential

  • PARDON MY FRENCH

    THIS YEAR, the 1913 Armory Show turns one hundred. That watershed exhibition—together with the emergence of the readymade—has long been seen as a pivotal moment in modernism’s relentlessly revolutionary progress, blowing the category of modern art wide open and ushering in the avant-garde’s signal conditions of shock and rupture. (This centennial will be celebrated by a number of exhibitions and events, including “The Armory Show at 100: Modern Art and Revolution,” opening at the New-York Historical Society on October 11.)

    But what if we’ve missed something? What if our narrative of

  • THE MOURNING AFTER: A ROUNDTABLE

    Few funerals have been as indecorous as the one held for painting in the early ’80s. Was the deceased truly dead, and, if so, in whose name could the death certificate be signed? Or was this a burial without a corpse, another instance of the ritual interments that seemed to recur throughout the nineteenth and twentieth centuries, as Arthur C. Danto suggests in his keynote statement? Artforum convened the roundtable that follows to offer our own reexamination of the Death of Painting debate and its legacy throughout the decade. In the April issue, a second group led by Robert Storr considers the afterlife of painting in the ’80s and beyond.

    In recalling a period of severe depression he underwent in the “melancholy winter of 1826–27,” John Stuart Mill wrote, in a famous passage of his autobiography, that he had been “seriously tormented by the thought of the exhaustibility of musical combinations.” Sooner or later, all the possibilities would have been used up, and music would be over with. There was no sense in Mill that this had already taken place, but the thought that it could or would deepened his distress. No composer of Mill’s time had, for instance, presented monotone works—a single note sustained for a substantial interval—nor

  • Clement Greenberg

    AT LONG LAST, CLEMENT GREENBERG has become readable again. This should have taken place years ago, for the texts themselves are luminous. Those of us who have been around long enough know why it didn’t happen sooner. Most artists and critics who came of age in the ’80s were fed a caricature of Greenberg—a foil, more precisely, against which the then-dominant antiaesthetic discourse stood for the truth. But those who are coming of age now are the readers whom Greenberg’s long-overdue Homemade Esthetics will, one hopes, reach. To do him justice, one must, of course, read him, preferably whole.

  • CRITICAL REFLECTIONS

    I’VE KNOWN THIERRY DE DUVE for about 15 years. We don’t see each other often, since we are usually on different continents, but he is one of the few writers on art about whom I regularly find myself wondering, What is he working on now?

    Early in the last decade, Thierry was one of the first people to draw my attention to Kant’s esthetics. In the early ’70s I had studied The Critique of Judgment in the context of Hegel, Marx, and the Frankfurt School, a vantage point from which Kant seemed, ironically enough, to be uncritical, “bourgeois,” and conformist. Thierry’s interest in Kant, which developed

  • THE READYMADE AND THE TUBE OF PAINT

    IT TOOK MARCEL DUCHAMP exactly one year, from Sonate (Sonata) in August 1911 to Mariée (Bride) in August 1912, to make his way through Cubism. He had been a rather eclectic painter until then, seemingly uncommitted, and not too gifted either. But the production bracketed by those dates displays an extraordinary and enigmatic concern for painting, Cubist in appearance, yet invested with an irony and an eroticism absent in orthodox Cubism. It is as if, quite suddenly, a compelling desire to establish his identity as a painter set in, and as if he understood, albeit unconsciously, that Cubism was

  • WHO’S AFRAID OF RED, YELLOW, AND BLUE?

    A discourse that would be neither of the order of reduction nor of the order of promise.

    —Michel Foucault

    IN 1966 BARNETT NEWMAN stretched a large rectangular canvas, the height of a man, and covered it almost entirely with a brilliant red, bracketing this with a narrow yellow strip on the right-hand side and a slightly broader blue strip on the left. In 1969, he commented on it as follows:

    I began this, my first painting in the series “Who’s Afraid of Red, Yellow and Blue,” as a “first” painting, unpremeditated. I did have the desire that the painting be asymmetrical and that it create a space