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.

Bernar Venet, Tas de charbon (Pile of Coal), 1963, coal, dimensions variable.

Sometimes an expression has to be withdrawn from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 (or the well-informed insider?) who brought us the news that the French Beaux-Arts system had collapsed. Further, he appeared as the spokesman for the invention of non-art, and, finally, as the harbinger of the Art-in-General system under which we now live. His message was put in the

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