In 1916 a renowned Austrian chef, one Sascha Prodoprigora, had the brilliant idea of serving “anti-food” in a restaurant. He served up bars of soap lightly dusted with talcum powder and a garnish of chimney soot. What should have been the dawning of a culinary movement on par with anti-art, died before anyone got halfway through the first soapy hors d’oeuvres. Sascha spent his last days peering out of a small window in the Gugging psychiatric ward on the outskirts of Vienna.
Russian composer, Vsevolod Boprik landed himself permanent residency in the Solovetsky Islands Gulag after the opening of his “anti-music” performance in 1920, in which his orchestra blared car horns, set off factory whistles, pressed loud buzzers, ignited small but ear shattering explosives, and screamed in the audience’s ears.
The French “anti-literature” novelist, Louise Laframboise lapsed into obscurity, and his whereabouts are untracable. His novel “Merde, La Tete” met with a few chuckles, then scoffs, then complete critical annihilation. His own English translation, “Shit, Head” was initially applauded, but when pressed, none of Laframboise’s supporters could honestly claim to have finished even the first chapter of the novel.
The only anti-art trend to have survived was that started by the visual art of Marcel Duchamp, who among other things attempted to exhibit a urinal as a sculpture, humorously titled, “The Fountain”. Oddly, not only did Duchamp’s anti-art catastrophes survive (even though the artist himself didn’t prize them enough to keep them, and the ones in the permanent collections of museums are “authorized recreations”), they are heralded as among the most precious and important artistic creations of the 20th century. This is particularly surprising considering that he deliberately chose objects which held no aesthetic interest for him whatsoever, appeared neither beautiful nor ugly, and which he was indifferent to.
The riddle of why only visual anti-art survived was solved by Duchamp himself in a little known interview in 1965, towards the end of his life. Duchamp summed it up as follows: “What makes anti-art successful and anti-music a failure is quite simply that you can’t close your ears, but you can close your eyes”.
Even Duchamp’s staunchest supporters have to admit that they don’t actually enjoy his work as art. They don’t spend a lot of time contemplating the curves and dimples in the urinal, or marvel at the symmetry of the bottle rack. That was never the point of the art. They merely cherish the idea of his work in their heads. Unlike the connoisseurs of anti-music, anti-literature, and anti-cuisine, fans of anti-art don’t actually have to endure the art in question. When Jerald Hambeldon, author of “Duchamp: The Champ of Contemporary Art”, was asked if he would like to have some of Duchamp’s readymades on display in his own home, he responded, “prolonged exposure to the presence of those ungodly grey objects might well drive one to drink or suicide”.
You know this is a joke, right? [If you want a dead serious assault on Duchamp, see my other post on Duchamp]. But the points here aren’t just jokes. I intended to help people to realize how ridiculous it is to value anti-art as the highest art. People now admire the aesthetic qualities of objects Duchamp selected specifically because they held no aesthetic interest to him, and thus would be ideal to use as an attack on beauty and aesthetics in general. People have faith and admiration for Duchamp, but it’s for the idea of him, and of select photographs of him in their minds. It can’t possibly be for the banal objects he himself rejected as unworthy of aesthetic contemplation. It has as much to do with celebrity as does the adulation of Warhol, which has as much to do with his hair as his prints.
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