Art essay submitted for Travel Writing class on October 6, 2011.
A gray bride, high up in the sky, spews clouds of smoke at the excitement of bachelors below her. Aroused by the bride’s acknowledgement, the brown bachelors maneuver their love machine in hopes that one of them will win their lover’s heart. However, a shatter interrupts the love story. This affair is portrayed in Marcel Duchamp’s mixed media piece called The Bride Stripped Bare by Her Bachelors, Even (The Large Glass), which can be currently found in the Philadelphia Museum of Art. Duchamp worked from 1915 to 1923, making numerous notes and studies to create this masterpiece. (Philadelphia Museum of Art)
Centering in the middle of the gallery, this piece grabs the attention of viewers. The transparency of the glass makes for a captivating visual structure. Because of its translucence, it is observable on two planes, giving different perspectives of the image being depicted. At first glance, the shatter seems intentional to reflect a message, but the museum abstract indicates that the piece was destroyed during transit (Philadelphia Museum of Art).
The piece contains two large glass rectangular panels stacked on top of each other. These rectangular glass panels measure at 109.25 in by 69.25 in (Stafford). On the top glass, a gray cloud located at the crown is placed with three equal squares aligned in the middle acting like windows. On the left side stands a woman set on a chair-like object that pivots on a wasp creature. In contrast to the top panel, the lower panel uses brown, earthy colors to define shapes. On the left side rests a group of men that are maneuvering a large instrument. The instrument is located toward the middle of the lower panel. The machine has a rectangular frame with two wheels inside that connect to a rope. The rope is attached to a windmill-like object, suggesting it spins. It seems at the foot of the spinner that four brown petals make the foundation of the machine. Moving in a semi-circular motion, a cone jumps to its highest peak at the center of the spinner.
Representing the free-thinking, unconventional art of the Dadaist movement, The Large Glass is neither a sculpture nor a painting. A reaction from the atrocities of World War I, Dadaism thrives on the principles of creating “non-art,” and was against “legitimizing of establishment,” conformity, government and society (Dada Companion). In the Dada spirit of anti-authority, Duchamp revolutionized the idea of ready-mades, already built simple objects framed in an artistic lens. For instance in Duchamp’s piece called “Fountain,” he chooses to display a urinal from the “Mott Works” company with the signature that says “R. Mutt” as his art piece. Duchamp’s ready-mades characterized the Dada movement, shifting society’s perception of what is considered art. (Gossart)
Using the ideas of Dadaism, Duchamp apply unconventional grouping of materials for the assembly. Using oil, varnish, lead oil, lead wire, and dust on two glass panels, he makes the simplistic shapes on the glass. First lining the perimeter with lead wire, he then filled inner space with oil paint to give color to the figures. Some dust was intentionally placed inside the figures, making the figures cloudy and bumpy. (Stafford)
As mentioned previously, the shatter was created accidently when it was being transferred from the Brooklyn Museum after its debut. Ten year later, Duchamp glued the pieces back together by securing it between new panels and a metal frame (Philadelphia Museum of Art). The shatter creates a web pattern across the piece that makes it seem like a spider web is holding the figures. It also calls attention to the area of action in the image, strengthening the movements of the story.
Duchamp’s usage of glass creates transparency, which allows for a dynamic background. Depending on the placement of the artwork, it can contribute a different perspective through color, movement, and shape. Because of the transparency, the figures can interact with the environment of the real world, which blurs the boundary between image and reality.
Standing at 109 inches by 69.25 inches, The Large Glass allows the viewer to move around the piece to observe new angles and levels of insight (Stafford). Partnering with transparency, the size of the piece charms the viewer to enjoy the piece in different ways as the dynamic background highlights and downplays different subjects.
Duchamp’s artistic techniques paint an allegory of a bride who emits gasoline because she is provoked by the bachelors below her. The top panel is called the “Bride’s Domain” and the lower panel is called the “Bachelors’ Apparatus.” The bachelor’s are excited about the bride, setting the watermill in motion to create chocolate. Duchamp, in the past, has associated chocolate with sexual energy. The missed arrows of the aroused bachelors cause the holes located on the top panel, opposite the bride. Some people think that this piece is about love. But the piece is also about suffering because the bachelors can never reach the bride. The bride’s clothes that separate the bachelors from the bride symbolize the horizon between the two realms. At the end of the story, the bride hangs herself because she cannot find love, while the bachelors are left below working on the chocolate machine. (Philadelphia Museum of Art)
The image and the story would not be as meaningful without the shatter. Although the shatter is not intentional, it still maintains beautiful, natural, and tragic elements to enhance the story. The shatter creates a sense of defeat that is reflected among the bachelors because they can never meet their bride. It is possible that Duchamp saw that the shatter added vivacity to the art, pushing him to assemble and present the damaged work as part of the piece.
The interactivity of the piece through its large structure and lucid materials is what makes this piece timeless. It allows for the environment to mesh with the art. It takes a simple love story into static figures and places it in a dynamic background, giving the impression that the story is uniform in history and will repeat through time as represented by the dynamic background. Its contingent nature allows it to become aesthetically pleasing in various facets depending on the lighting of the time of day and the movement of the background. The Bride Stripped Bare by Her Bachelors, Even (The Large Glass) tests boundaries between static and dynamic redefining what art was and what it can be.
Gossart, Séverine. “Ready-Mades.” DADA Companion. 5 Oct. 2011. Web. 5 Oct. 2011.
“The Bride Stripped Bare by Her Bachelors, Even (The Large Glass).” Philadelphia Museum of Art. 2011. Web. 26 Sept. 2011. <http://www.philamuseum.org/collections/permanent/54149.html?mulR=281726>.
Stafford, Andrew. Making Sense of Marcel Duchamp. 2008. Web. 27 Sept. 2011. <http://www.understandingduchamp.com/>.
Surrealism. 2009. Web. 27 Sept. 2011. <http://www.surrealism.org/>.
“The Large Glass.” DADA Companion. 27 Sept. 2011. Web. 27 Sept. 2011. <http://www.dadacompanion.com/duchamp/largeglass.php>.