“It’s Art If I Say So”

Marcel Duchamp’s Legacy in the Hirshhorn Collection

Green open box with various handwritten notes inside

Art As Idea

Duchamp’s art practice, while taking many forms, was predicated on a guiding principle: art should not appeal to the eye, through visual interest, but instead should be “at the service of the mind.” One of the most salient examples of this is The Bride Stripped Bare by Her Bachelors, Even (also known as The Green Box), a compendium of ninety-four exacting reproductions of Duchamp’s own notes, drawings, and photographs that offers a view onto the artist’s working process for The Large Glass, arguably his most important artwork. While Duchamp conceived the idea for this project, he outsourced the actual production of its three-hundred-copy edition to colleagues and professional printers.

By elevating ideas over craftsmanship, Duchamp established the foundation for one of the most significant developments of the 1960s: Conceptual art, in which the idea takes precedence over all other elements. Freed from conventions defining not only what could be used to make art, but also who could make it, many Conceptual artists turned to language as their primary medium. Importantly, this was not the first instance of artists incorporating text into their work, but it was in Conceptual art that language, rather than form, became the principal conveyer of meaning.

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