29 September 2016 | 10 °C

Art Review: The Bride And The Bachelors @ Barbican Art Gallery

Art Review: The Bride And The Bachelors @ Barbican Art Gallery
Marcel Duchamp Fountain, 1950 (replica of 1917 original) Philadelphia Museum of Art, 125th Anniversary Acquisition. Gift (by exchange) of Mrs. Herbert Cameron Morris © Succession Marcel Duchamp, 2013, ADAGP/Paris, DACS/London
Marcel Duchamp Fountain, 1950 (replica of 1917 original) Philadelphia Museum of Art, 125th Anniversary Acquisition. Gift (by exchange) of Mrs. Herbert Cameron Morris © Succession Marcel Duchamp, 2013, ADAGP/Paris, DACS/London
Jasper Johns Figure 8, 1959 The Sonnabend Collection, New York © Jasper Johns / VAGA, New York / DACS, London 2013
Jasper Johns Figure 8, 1959 The Sonnabend Collection, New York © Jasper Johns / VAGA, New York / DACS, London 2013
John Cage Strings 1-20, 1980 Private Collection © John Cage Trust
John Cage Strings 1-20, 1980 Private Collection © John Cage Trust
Robert Rauschenberg Minutiae, 1976 (replica of 1954 original) Collection Walker Art Center, Minneapolis. Walker Art Center, Merce Cunningham Dance Company Collection © The Robert Rauschenberg Foundation. DACS, London/VAGA, New York 2013
Robert Rauschenberg Minutiae, 1976 (replica of 1954 original) Collection Walker Art Center, Minneapolis. Walker Art Center, Merce Cunningham Dance Company Collection © The Robert Rauschenberg Foundation. DACS, London/VAGA, New York 2013
Merce Cunningham Walkaround Time, 1968 Choreography: Merce Cunningham and stage set and costumes: Jasper Johns © 1972 by James Klosty
Merce Cunningham Walkaround Time, 1968 Choreography: Merce Cunningham and stage set and costumes: Jasper Johns © 1972 by James Klosty
Marcel Duchamp Nude Descending a Staircase (No. 2),1912 Philadelphia Museum of Art, The Louise and Walter Arensberg Collection © Succession Marcel Duchamp, 2013, ADAGP/Paris, DACS/London
Marcel Duchamp Nude Descending a Staircase (No. 2),1912 Philadelphia Museum of Art, The Louise and Walter Arensberg Collection © Succession Marcel Duchamp, 2013, ADAGP/Paris, DACS/London

The question 'what is art?' has triggered many lengthy debates, though a defined answer has never been landed on. Of all works that trigger such debates, the most notable is the famous urinal signed and displayed by Marcel Duchamp. The original was lost soon after it was first exhibited but a replica is here in the Barbican gallery for an exhibition that explores Duchamp's influence on four other artists and their outputs — both in visual and performing arts.

The contrasts between these artists are stark. Duchamp's jagged edges of a nude descending a staircase eschews realism in favour of motion. By comparison many of the works by Johns and Rauschenburg seem cluttered in comparison. Duchamp could simply place a wheel on top of a stool or hang a bottle rack from the ceiling and leave it at that, while other artists felt compelled to build upon this simplicity, thus decreasing its impact.

Of all the artists on display here, Cage came the closest to emulating Duchamp's potency through minimalistic activity. His paintings created by dropping paint soaked strings on to paper are a prim example of this, as is his famous 4'33" performance. On a few occasions Rauschenburg also rose to these heights, particularly with the paint transfer from a tyre across sheets of paper.

This exhibition isn't aesthetically pleasing, but it is cerebrally challenging. It may not answer the question of 'what is art?' but, through examining Duchamp and his relationship with other artists, it provides plenty of fodder for the debate.

The Bride and the Bachelors: Duchamp with Cage, Cunningham, Rauschenberg and Johns is on display at the Barbican Art Gallery, Barbican Centre, Silk street, EC2Y 8DS until 9 June. Tickets are £10 for adults (online booking), concessions available.

Last Updated 13 July 2015

Tabish Khan

Article by Tabish Khan | 934 articles | View Profile | Twitter