Marchel Duchamp: «The great artist of tomorrow will go underground»

«La passion semble s’être réfugiée dans le web, dans les blogs tenus par des acharnés. Dans un univers culturel où règnent surproduction et confusion, sans doute faudrait-il reconstruire des caves… A la fin de sa vie, Marchel Duchamp n’avait-il pas énoncé cette étrange prophétie: “The great artist of tomorrow will go underground”» Nicolas Bourriaud, Beaux-Arts, novembre 2007, n°281, p. 40.

«The great artist of tomorrow will go underground» est effectivement la phrase de conclusion de la communication de Marchel Duchamp donnée le lundi 20 mars 1961, lors du colloque titré «Where do we go from Here ?», organisé au Philadelphia Museum of College of Art.

La communication est reprise dans le catalogue Marcel Duchamp, Bompiani, 1993; Jennifer Gough-Cooper, Jacques Caumont, Ephemerides on and about Marcel Duchamp and Rrose Sélavy, 1887-1968, page du 20 March :

«In the evening, with Katherine Kuth as moderator, Duchamp, the sculptor Louise Nevelson, and two painters, Larry Day and Theodoros Stamos, are members of a panel to discuss “Where do we go from Here ?”  [Où allons-nous?] at the Philadelphia Museum of College of Art.
Of the panellists, Duchamp is the only one to make a brief, prepared statement.»

La communication de Duchamp

«To imagine the future, we should perhaps start from the more or less recent past, which seems to us today to begin with the realism of Courbet and Manet. It does seem in fact that realism is at the heart of the liberation of the artist as an individual, whose work, to which the viewer or collector adapts himself, sometimes with difficulty, has an independent existence. This period of liberation rapidly gave birth to all the ‘isms’ which have followed one another durint the last century, at the rate of one new ‘ism’ about every fifteen years. I believe that to try and guess what will happens tomorrow, we must group the ‘isms’ together through their common factor, instead of differentiating them.
Considered in the framework of a century of modern art, the very recent examples of Abstract Expressionism clearly show the ultimate in the retine approach begun by Impressionism. By ‘retinal’ I mean that the aesthetic pleasure depends almost entirely on the impression on the retina, without appealing to any auxiliary interpretation.
Scarcely twenty years ago the public still demanded of the work of art some representative detail to justify its interest and admiration.
Today, the opposite is almost true… the general public is aware of the existence of abstraction, understands it and even demands it of the artists.
I am not talking about collectors who for fifty years have supported this progression towards a total abandon of representation in the visual arts; like the artists, they have been swept along by the current. The fact that the problem of the last hundred years boils down almost entirely to the single dilemma of the ‘representative and the non representative’ seems to me to reinforce the importance I gave a moment ago to the entirely retinal aspect of the total output of the different ‘isms’.
Therefore I am inclined, after this examination of the past, to believe that the young artist of tomorrow will refuse to base his work as over-simplified as that of the ‘representative or non-representative’ dilemma.
I am  convinced that, like Alice in Wonderland, he will be led to pass through the looking-glass fo the retina, to reach a more profound expression.
I am only too well aware that among the ‘isms’ which I have mentioned, Surrealism introduced the exploration of the subconscious and reduced the role of the retina to that of an open window on the phenomena of the brain.
The young artist of tomorrow will, I believe, have to go still further in this same direction, to bring to light startling new values which are and will always be the basis of artistic revolutions.
If we now envisage the more technical side of a possible future, it is very likely that the artist, tired of the cult for oils in painting, will find himself completely abandoning this five-hundred-year-old process, which restricts his freedom of expression by its academic ties.
Other techniques have already appeared recently and we can foresee that just as the invention of new musical instruments changes the whole sensibility of an era, the phenomenon of light can, due to current scientific process, among other things, become the tool for the new artist.
In the present state of relations between artists and the public, we can see an enormous output which the public moreover supports and encourages.

Through their close connection with the law of supply and demand the visual arts have become a ‘commodity’; [Grâce à leur lien étroit avec la loi de l'offre et la demande les arts visuels sont devenus une «marchandise»] the work of art is now a commonplace product like soap and securities [l'œuvre d'art est maintenant un produit-lieu commun  comme le savon et des valeurs mobilières].

So we can perfectly imagine the creation of a union which would deal with all the economics questions concerning the artist… we can imagine this union deciding on the selling price of works of art, just as the plumbers’ union determines the salary of each worker… We can even imagine this union forcing the artist to abandon his identity, even to the point of no longer having the right to sign his works. Would the total artistic output controlled by a union of this kind form a sort of monument to a given era comparable to the anonymous cathedrals? [La totalité de la production artistique contrôlée par une union de ce type formant une sorte de monument à une époque comparable à l'anonymat des cathédrales?]
These various aspects of art today brings us to look at it as a whole, in terms of an overdeveloped exoteric. By that I mean that the general public accepts and demands a lot from art, far too much from art; that the general public today seeks aesthetic satisfaction wrapped up in a set of material and speculative values and is drawing artistic output towards an enormous dilution. [Ces différents aspects de l'art d'aujourd'hui nous amènent à le regarder dans son ensemble, en termes d'exotérique surdéveloppé. J'entends par là que le grand public accepte et demande beaucoup de l'art, beaucoup trop de l'art, que le grand public d'aujourd'hui vise la satisfaction esthétique enveloppée dans un ensemble de matériel et de valeurs spéculatives et conduit  la production artistique vers un énorme dilution.
This enormous dilution, losing in quality what it gains in quantity, is accompanied by a levelling down of present taste and its immediate result will be to shroud the near future in mediocrity. [Cette énorme dilution, la perte de qualité dans ce qu'elle gagne en quantité, est accompagnée par un nivellement par le bas du goût actuel et son résultat immédiat sera d'enterrer le proche avenir dans la médiocrité.]
In conclusion, I hope that this mediocrity, conditioned by too many factors foreign to art per se, will this time bring a revolution on the ascetice level, of which the general public will be not even be aware and which only a few initiates will developp on the fringe of a world blinded by economic fireworks.
The great artist of to morrow will go underground. »*

[En conclusion, j'espère que cette médiocrité, conditionnée par trop de facteurs étrangers à l'art en soi, en ce moment, apportera une révolution au niveau ascétique, dont le grand public ne sera même pas au courant et que seulement quelques initiés développeront en marge d'un monde aveuglés par les feux d'artifice économiques. Le grand artiste de demain sera clandestin.]

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