“It’s Art If I Say So”

Marcel Duchamp’s Legacy in the Hirshhorn Collection

Using artworks from the Hirshhorn’s collection, “It’s Art If I Say So” explores the multifaceted ways that Marcel Duchamp—arguably the most influential artist of the twentieth century—altered the direction of modern and contemporary art. It complements Marcel Duchamp: The Barbara and Aaron Levine Collection, an exhibition that opened in November 2019 and celebrates the Levines’ extraordinary gift to the Museum of more than fifty artworks, including thirty-five seminal works by Duchamp. Originally planned as a companion exhibition, “It’s Art If I Say So” was adapted for a virtual setting due to the COVID-19 pandemic. “It’s Art If I Say So” is organized around four broad themes that anchored Duchamp’s art practice: found objects, appropriation, art as idea, and optical experiments. Together they offer a glimpse of how one artist dramatically expanded both the definition and the direction of art. And while Duchamp is appreciated for laconic statements such as “It’s art if I say so,” the artworks here speak to the varying and nuanced ways that he has influenced generations of artists. In the half-century since his death, ideas that were once incredibly controversial have become such a common part of the vocabulary of art that it can be difficult to remember how radical Duchamp’s proposals once were.

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