Duchamp's snow shovel (1915)
(see Illustrations 11A and
11A is allegedly the
original readymade, photographed in Duchamp's studio. But look at the shaft.
It is square. Now compare this square-shafted shovel to
11B, the snow shovel that Duchamp
really did purchase in a hardware store, in accordance with the explicit request of his
collector, Katherine Dreier, in 1945 (Schwarz, 1997). The shaft of the
snow shovel 11B is round; but
every drawing and reproduction since has had a square shaft like the lost original
in the photograph. I stared and stared at these shovels, keeping the hypothesis
in mind that something was wrong with the perspective. I knew that something
looked fishy about the hanging shovel's size (see
If the bicycle wheel in the foreground is approximately 26½ inches in
diameter and the wheel from one of his optical machines
(Rotary Glass Plates, 1920) in the background is about 13
inches (these approximate measurements were available), how could the
shovel in the middle be full-size in relation to the other
But it was not until I imagined picking up the square-shafted shovel and using it
that I realized what was wrong. No wonder that Ducahmp sardonically titled this
"readymade" In Advance of the Broken Arm. Hand tools, brooms, and
shovels all have round shafts and a slip-in, male into female connection. But
11B, has a bolt and anchoring sleeve
above the shovel blade, attaching it to the handle.
My almost completed research into the history of tools confirms my suspicions that Duchamp changed the snowshovel's shaft. Duchamp scholar Molly Nesbit (1991) used Illustration 12A to demonstrate a typical tool design book from the period when Duchamp was educated in France (see Illustration 12A). Note that every real tool looks like snowshovel 11B, the one that Duchamp truly purchased in the store-round shaft handle, and typical male/female connection of shaft to shovel (Nesbit, 1991, pp. 351-385).
For my study of Duchamp's Hat Rack (1917) and Trap (coat rack, 1917, titled, Trébuchet, a French word for trap in chess, where a pawn is sacrificed in the interest of a larger strategy), I have completed research on hooks in general and hat racks and coat racks specifically. Hooks, by definition, either go up or run straight. In hundreds of examples, I have never seen a hook curving down (which makes sense, for if you try to hang a hat or a coat on a downward hook, the item is likely to fall off!) (See Illustrations 13A and 13B). Duchamp's hooks go the wrong way! Duchamp admits that he changed the orientation of the coat rack, claiming that he nailed it to the floor because he kept tripping over it. The main hook goes down and the two smaller hooks go up. If we try to turn the coat rack around to correct this, then the two small hooks go down and the large one goes up. (The hooks even vary, the last middle hook is bent up and unusable.)
As he claimed for the snowshovel, Duchamp claims that he lost both the original Hat Rack and Trap (coat rack). What I have illustrated here in 13A and 13B are, allegedly, the originals hanging in his studio.25 The Hat Rack looks, even at first glance, like a counterfeit. And the perspective shown in the Hat Rack cannot be correct. Look at the distortion and incorrect perspective in the arrangement of hooks illustrated in the Schwarz drawing from the original photo (see Illustration 14A). How could the false perspective of the drawing and original photograph be translated in the reproduction of a symmetrical "hat rack" with six equal hooks when the drawing and photograph showed five varied sizes of hooks and an impossible configuration, and overlap?
I am presently doing a computer version of Duchamp's Hat Rack which will display this distortion from different perspectives in order to clarify my point. (See Illustrations 14C and 14D for historical examples of hooks from the late-nineteenth and early-twentieth centuries.) In retrospect, Duchamp was right. The coat rack is a Trébuchet, a mental trap, set right in front of us. We trip right over it, missing the fact that the main hook goes the wrong way. We do not see this because our fixed perspective blinds us. We are told that the objects are a coat rack and a Hat Rack and we accept this claim. Duchamp's Hat Rack should look like the one in Illustration 14B, which is the traditional Brentwood design implied by his Hat Rack. But think about it. Make a mental picture of how 13A would have looked as an original Hat Rack in comparison with the 14B design. Even if we mentally rotate and correct the hooks to go up, what constituted the rest of the hat rack's total form? What was on top of the hook section structure? How did the hook section connect to a stand below? How could it make sense?
Art & Academe (ISSN: 1020-7812), Vol. 10, No. 1 (Fall 1997): 26-62.
Copyright © 1997 Visual Arts Press Ltd.
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