“On its face, the image is straightforward enough: a keyhole surrounded by dingy smudges, a handle of sorts, a segment of white door and doorframe, a yellowish swath of wall. It is what lies behind Rachel Harrison’s The Help (2012) that so richly complicates it. – Katherine Markoski, Marcel Duchamp: The Barbara and Aaron Levine Collection
Rachel Harrison’s The Help offers a unique opportunity to explore Marcel Duchamp’s last major work, Étant donnés: 1. La chute d’eau, 2. Le gaz d’éclairage (Given: 1. The Waterfall, 2. The Illuminating Gas), a permanent installation at the Philadelphia Museum of Art. Conceptualized in secrecy over twenty-one years and realized after the artist’s death, Étant donnés, is, as Jasper Johns once wrote, “the strangest work of art any museum has ever had in it,” and one of the most perplexing works of Duchamp’s extensive career. Combining painting, objects, and animated features hidden behind a massive wooden door, the diorama-like installation is only viewed by looking through peepholes in the door. Harrison’s The Help offers a rare chance to consider the work through a different view, by zooming in on the door to the artwork’s rear maintenance entrance.
Art historian Katherine Markoski will introduce Harrison’s The Help and discuss the implications the photograph has in considering Duchamp’s last major artwork through a new lens. Markoski contributed an entry on The Help to the catalogue for Marcel Duchamp: The Barbara and Aaron Levine Collection, and she has written on the artists associated with Black Mountain College, including the important collaborations that emerged between Merce Cunningham, John Cage, Jasper Johns, Robert Rauschenberg, and Marcel Duchamp.