My new work schedule at the bookstore has freed up my Tuesday afternoons. While walking around downtown after lunch, trying to figure out what to do with this new block of unscheduled time, I passed a poster advertising the Museum of Art. On Tuesdays, the museum’s free, so I decided to take a look. While it’s not a bad museum, I wasn’t particularly impressed until I discovered an entire gallery filled with the work of Marcel Duchamp. I’d never seen any of his work outside of a book before. Which is part of the problem: glossy art photographs always make things look so much better than real-life. Duchamp’s work suffers from this less than other artists’, I suppose, if only because so much of his stuff--I’m thinking of the readymades, in particular--are made out of everyday items. And that’s also part of the problem. A lot of the readymades aren’t Duchamp’s original pieces, which were lost or stolen. Instead, the museum owns authorized replicas, which doesn’t seem the same somehow. That sort of killed whatever pleasure I might have gotten out of seeing them.
I was about to leave and go home when I saw on a far wall of the gallery, in a small plexiglass display case, one of the few original readymades the museum had in its possession: With Hidden Noise. A fascinating piece of work: a ball of twine, now decades old, firmly clamped between two tarnished brass plates. The four screws that held the thing together were tinged with the powdery turquoise corrosion peculiar to non-ferrous metals. Inside, between the brass, in the hollow core of the ball of twine was the mysterious source of the hidden noise.
My primary frustration was that because it was in a plexiglass box, the readymade was out of reach, making it impossible for anyone to pick it up, shake it, and hear the hidden noise. I understand, of course, why such display tactics are necessary: having thousands of visitors shaking a piece of art, even one designed to be shaken, would only hasten its demise. Still, I think, a select few should be exempt from such prohibitions, if only to keep the artist’s original intent alive. I became so engrossed in studying the readymade and considering the problem of its silence that a guard had to inform me that the museum was closing.
I shall have to return next Tuesday.