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MY FUNNY VALENTINE: ÉTANT DONNÉS

You’re my favorite work of art . . .”

AS YOU MAKE YOUR WAY toward Marcel Duchamp’s Étant donnés at the Philadelphia Museum of Art, you walk down a long hallway with Paul Cézanne’s Les Grandes Baigneuses (The Large Bathers), 1906, squarely in your sight line. For all its iconic status, it is a bizarre canvas. Its scale is monstrous and not particularly in keeping with its ostensible subject matter: nudes at play in a pastoral landscape. The nudes (or shall we call them women?) proliferate, seated and standing; they arch toward one another like so many windswept trees, forming parentheses around the core of the painting, which remains awkwardly but decidedly empty. The void suggests that something about the very idea of this painting struck Cézanne as potentially ridiculous. It’s as if he knew the jig was up: naked women in a landscape? Really? In 1906?

Hang a right at the Cézanne, head down

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