Marcel Duchamp, Andy Warhol, and Sergei Eisenstein may seem like unlikely bedfellows; however, these three giants created 20th century contemporary artworks that spoke to me of important junctures in art history. These works are also part of the permanent collection at the Museum of Modern Art (MoMA), New York, US.
For the last 90 years now, the MoMA has patronised contemporary fine arts by purchasing the best of world's interdisciplinary production. The 2,00,000 works of the collection – paintings, sculptures, engravings, photographs, videos, architectural and design items, performances – 'celebrate creativity, openness, tolerance and generosity'. The pieces travelled to Paris as part of an unparalleled event when MoMA brought its collection of iconic artwork to the Louis Vuitton Museum in Paris.
Bicycle Wheel (1951) is Duchamp’s first ready-made, a class of objects he invented to challenge assumptions about what constitutes a work of art. Those of us who think of Duchamp as the Godfather of the Dadaist movement are quite familiar with his Fountain, the urinal signed by R Mutt. However, his Bicycle Wheel has a kinetic wonderment and has inspired scores of young artists across the globe. Duchamp combined two mass-produced parts - a bicycle wheel and fork and a kitchen stool - to create a type of non-functional machine. By simply selecting prefabricated items and calling them art, he subverted established notions of the artist’s craft and the viewer’s aesthetic experience. The 1913 Bicycle Wheel was lost, but nearly four decades later, Duchamp assembled a replacement from newly-found prefabricated parts and affirmed that the later version is as valid as the original.
Andy Warhol’s Soup Cans was another on my bucket list. I found this work fascinating because it marked Warhol’s transition from hand-painted to photo-transferred art and it was another artwork that heralded era of the reproducible and the ready-made. In 1962, the year in which Pop Art was established as the latest major artistic movement, Warhol created this groundbreaking series of works. While these pieces mimicked a mechanical method of production, they were, in fact, hand-painted. The set of works was simply called Campbell’s Soup Cans, and would become one of the most iconic, signature pieces of his career. Wishing to 'be a machine', Warhol would later reinterpret these works as screen-prints in order to achieve the highly finished, mechanised look he desired. Campbell’s Soup I has, subsequently, become one of the most renowned series in his graphic oeuvre.
The next piece that had one transfixed was a film clipping from the Battleship Potemkin, projected very minimally onto a white wall. The 1925 Soviet silent film, directed by Sergei Eisenstein and produced by Mosfilm, is iconic for many reasons. Here, at the MoMa exhibit in Paris, it was not the entire film, but the sequence known as the ‘Odessa Steps’, chosen no doubt for its strong comment on militarised Russia and the idea of mutiny. It was meant to commemorate the revolutionary events of 1905, and celebrate with a ‘grand film shown in a special programme, with an oratory introduction, musical (solo and orchestral) and a dramatic accompaniment based on a specially written text’. Nina Agadzhanova was asked to write the script and the direction of the picture was assigned to 27-year-old Sergei Eisenstein. It was a ground-breaking film for the young director and became a cult classic for its explosive content and the way it used montage.
(Quote: referenced from The 50 Greatest Films of All Time. British Film Institute. Sight & Sound. September 2012. Retrieved January 1, 2018.)