Thursday, March 14, 2013

Nude Descending a Staircase, No. 2

Some consider the Armory Show in New York in February of 1913 to mark the beginning of the modernist art movement. It opened on February 17, 1913 to a grand opening of 4,000 people. The show displayed art from both American and European artists. They set up the viewings so that people entering would see American sculptures and paintings first, and then they would meander towards the more abstract and shocking European art. This encouraged a national pride towards American art and ridicule of the European's art. One of the most lampooned art pieces was Duchamp's "Nude Descending a Staircase, No. 2".
 This painting created much interest at its debut in the Armory Show in New York in February of 1913, although most people did not like it. One critic said it looked like an explosion at a shingle factory. Most people disapproved of the piece because they could not decipher it. The ones that could find meaning within the interlacing shapes did not approve of it because it severely departed from the standard depiction of the human form. It used both the cubist idea of fracturing shapes and the futurist idea of showing movement to portray a highly revered topic. Even when Duchamp had tried to display it at a cubist exhibition a year earlier, his brothers had rejected it because, according to them, nudes did not descend staircases, they reclined.
Despite initial backlash, Duchamp's "Nude Descending a Staircase, No. 2" in now hailed as a remarkable piece that relates even to modern day animation. It depicts around 20 overlapping renders of a figure as it walks down the stairs. Much like time-lapse photography, it defines the movement of different parts of the body and their path through space. If one knows where to look, one can get an impression of a line formed from the repeated knees or hips. Research, however, shows that most people do not pick up on these details of movement unless they have received previous instruction on where to look or if they have experienced such ideas before. Time-lapse photographs are used in contemporary studies for animation.
Duchamp did not know he would create such a sensational piece. When interviewed, he stated that he painted it when he was young and had no idea of the American culture or how they would react. However, he reveled in the attention, and even sold the piece for a satisfactory price.

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