Francis Nauman: The exhibition is a homage to Marcel Duchamp’s Nude Descending a Staircase. Why was the Nude Descending a Staircase such a controversy when it was shown at The Armory Show in 1913? There are many reasons. People have speculated that it had something to do with the fact that the picture was half futurist, half cubist and although those might have been concerns, the reason it was found to be the sensation of the show in the end – people objected to it – had more to do with a fact that they couldn’t really come to terms with the subject.
The subject was Nu Descendant un Escalier, and even if you read very little French you would be able to make out that meant nude descending a staircase. And that was more than the average american wanted to wrap their heads around. Nudes in paintings for 400 years have done what nudes do best – they just lie down and sit there, they come from Mt. Olympus and they are always nude. And there is a distinction between the terms “nude” and “naked”.
Naked is someone who had cloths on normally but took them off, so it has more erotic implication, and in this case you can’t help but think that because this particular nude is coming down a staircase. And I think that, in the end, was the reason why the work was such a sensation at the time of The Armory Show. And he always loved to retell the story that when he came to the United States in the 1930’s to see the painting at the house of Walter and Louise Arensberg they were not able to show him the picture because it had been lent to an exhibition at the Cleveland Museum of Art. So Duchamp took a train, went all the way to Cleveland and was quite surprised to see on a label next to the picture that it had given his birth and death dates. The museum had already announced that he died three years earlier, they knew nothing about the artist and that was already in the 1930s. And Duchamp wasn’t complaining, what he was basically saying is he was delighted by the fact that he was able to hide behind the identity of this picture.
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