Stockholm

Ulf Linde’s 1:10 scale replica of Marcel Duchamp’s 1946–66 Étant donnés: 1. La chute d’eau, 2. Le gaz d’éclairage (Given: 1. The Waterfall, 2. The Illuminating Gas), 1992.

Ulf Linde’s 1:10 scale replica of Marcel Duchamp’s 1946–66 Étant donnés: 1. La chute d’eau, 2. Le gaz d’éclairage (Given: 1. The Waterfall, 2. The Illuminating Gas), 1992.

“De ou par Marcel Duchamp par Ulf Linde”

Royal Swedish Academy of Fine Arts

Ulf Linde’s 1:10 scale replica of Marcel Duchamp’s 1946–66 Étant donnés: 1. La chute d’eau, 2. Le gaz d’éclairage (Given: 1. The Waterfall, 2. The Illuminating Gas), 1992.

In its highest form, cultural detective work yields spectacular deductions—equal parts tease and persuasion—permitting you to freely take a leap of faith just to see what happens were the speculation to be true. This was the case for “De ou par Marcel Duchamp par Ulf Linde” (Of or by Marcel Duchamp by Ulf Linde), an extravaganza of an exhibition organized by Jan Åman and Daniel Birnbaum with Henrik Samuelsson and Susanna Slöör, centering on Linde’s sixty years of sleuthing around Marcel Duchamp’s oeuvre. Linde, once an acolyte of Duchamp and now an authority on his work, proposes that its key is a coded numerological system originally embedded in the artist’s humble Moulin à café (Coffee Mill), 1911. In Linde’s analysis, the seemingly random numbers 1, 2, 3, 7, and 8 represent the eight members of la famille Duchamp. Linde observes: “The three brothers, Gaston Duchamp (Jacques Villon), Raymond Duchamp Villon and Marcel Duchamp, had three sisters, Suzanne, Madeleine and Yvonne. With father and mother they were a family of 8. Marcel Duchamp heeded his own plight within the family. In his eyes there were only the other family members. He was an eighth left over—1/8.” Ultimately, if you follow along, you will conclude with Linde that 1/8 symbolizes Duchamp’s ego. Linde believes the mathematical relationships among these numbers and the golden mean permeate Duchamp’s art right through to his final masterpiece, Étant donnés: 1. La chute d’eau, 2. Le gaz d’éclairage (Given: 1. The Waterfall, 2. The Illuminating Gas), 1946–66.

You are welcome to do the math. Linde’s impressive essay Ett verks hemligaste poesi—och dess djupaste (The Most Secret—and Most Profound—Poetry of a Work, 2011), contains page after page, diagram after diagram, measurement after measurement in support of his theory. A fragment of the analysis of Moulin à café and Why Not Sneeze Rose Sélavy, 1921, reads: “If one places the little bird cage on Coffee Mill’s ‘frame’ one sees that the length of the cage is 21.6 cm (= √3 x 12.47). The height is 11.4 cm (33 – 21.6 = 11.4) and the width is 15.36 cm (= 33 – (12.47 x √2)). All the measurements, then, are to be found in Coffee Mill’s geometry.” No stone is left unturned; Linde is nothing if not exhaustive. Then, for good measure, he tips in crucial bits of evidence such as the exchange between Pierre Cabanne and Duchamp, in which the former wonders, “How do you explain your evolution toward the system of measurements in The Bride and The Large Glass?” The artist replies, “I explain it with The Coffee Mill.” There is an odd little note in Linde’s hand that metaphorically captures his swelling obsession with the Duchampian code he finds everywhere. It reads, “A scent. A strong smell,” which he crosses out before writing, “A measurement.” While often verging on mad science, it’s almost a credible story.

But let’s not forget the exhibition, which included the vast holdings of the legendary artist’s work from Stockholm’s Moderna Museet and Linde’s own acutely selected Duchamp collection—vivid evidence of the conscientious researcher’s passion for his subject—and a choir of paintings (de Chirico, Picabia, Arp) providing the exhibition’s historical baseline. You can just imagine. What is difficult to imagine and virtually impossible to do justice to is Åman’s virtuoso exhibition design, an astonishingly enchanting, teasing puzzle for his audience, with its own equivalents of hidden drawers and secret entrances; he made subtle use of the mathematical proportions crucial to Linde’s interpretation of Duchamp, which meant your experience of the exhibition derived from Moulin à café too. Linde has never laid claim to being an artist, but after “De ou par Marcel Duchamp par Ulf Linde,” there is ample reason for Åman to consider the claim for himself.

Ronald Jones