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Observing the implacable logic of the exhibition at the Barbican in London “The Bride and the Bachelors; Duchamp with Cage, Cunningham, Rauschenberg and Johns”, it’s surprising that it’s not been made before. Duchamp’s relation with the rest of the artists mentioned, as well the close ties between them merits it. This exhibition is clear proof that the discipline of art history needs curating to reactivate the past, to present it as current and alive. This ambitious transatlantic show places the spectator once again on the trail of Duchamp while connecting him with the reception of his legacy in the United States. Stemming from an idea of Carlos Basualdo and under the initiative of the Philadelphia Museum of Art, “The Bride and the Bachelors” serves to look at the principal works of Duchamp now under a new light, enriching it with the multiple and interconnected readings of Cage, Cunningham, Rauschenberg and Johns. The result of so much talent could only be brilliant, even more so if the very exhibition functions as an integrating device or space-time machine.
A large part of its organic nature is due to the French artist Philippe Parreno, who has realised themise en scène. It’s not surprising that it is he who has given it form, accustomed as he is to granting meaning to his own solo exhibitions as a sum of ambiences, sounds, lights and pieces, many of which are made in collaboration. It’s as if this principle of collaboration, which is so important for the French artist has been projected on the past, on other historic artists. It’s worth remembering that Parreno has always been an admirer and follower of these very artists that he now arranges. There is the case of his inclusion of White Painting (1951), by Robert Rauschenberg, in one of his previous exhibitions. In 2001, Parreno filmed a short film in Norway, in the form of a 60 second commercial advertisement, under the title The Dream of a Thing. A year later, in the Portikus in Frankfurt, he projected it onto the painting by Rauschenberg for 4 minutes and 33 seconds, an explicit wink at the famous work by Cage. All reminiscent of the questioning of the object, through its displacement or through subjecting it to variations, that is the context that conforms his art. With these precedents, it is not surprising that Parreno endeavours to activate a mechanism, that fortunately, has nothing to do with the “relational” (unless some deranged mind still sees it this way). What is on offer is really worth seeing. On the lower floor is displayed The bride (1912) an emblematic piece by Duchamp that triggers the rest of the exhibition “machine”, passing immediately to The bride stripped bare by the bachelors, even. The Large Glass (1915-1923). In the centre of the space there is a “dance floor” for representations of dance and performance, while from the roof hangs Walkaround Time (1968), the stage set created by Jasper Johns inspired by The large glass, and which the painter designed during his period as artistic director of the Merce Cunningham Dance Company, from 1967 to 1980. All going to show the interdisciplinary collaborations of these artists. This part ends up being historically valuable and as an exhibition, admirable. To this one has to add the soundtrack that runs through the space. The spectator can read what he is listening to thanks to the large oscillating signs denominated “fireflies”. The orchestration of this soundtrack introduces a ghostly feature, abstract and hugely poetic. For example, one of these soundtracks is a dance piece that the spectator can only hear. Parreno recorded the steps and sounds of a piece by Cunningham in New York and now the piece “is listened to” in the empty, illuminated stage of the Barbican. On the upper floor, the exhibition carries on, creating yet more intertwined associations between the artists. The dance with Duchamp hangs for a long time in the air. Go and see it.