Intrusions into the Enchanters Domain
- I became very interested in Dada and Surrealism, growing up in a small town in southwestern Germany, at the age of thirteen , with my gateway drug being Salvador Dalí, whose books I found in my godmother’s library. There is a note of mine from around that time: “Duchamp is very important.” I just loved the idea of how he seemed to hover above everything, aloof.
- At age sixteen, my father did not appreciate my going to see Dieter Daniels’s show “Marcel Duchamp and the Avantgarde since 1950” at Cologne’s Museum Ludwig in 1988, so I stayed home. He said I could see everything on display in that exhibition by walking through the main shopping street of our own little town.
- While a high school student, aged seventeen, at Liverpool High School in upstate New York, I made a linocut of Duchamp’s 1914 version of The Chocolate Grinder for an appreciative Ms. Houston, my fine arts teacher. I also managed to convince my long-haired, Metallica-loving host-brother Derrick to take me on a road trip to Philadelphia with his pickup truck.
- In the early summer of 1989, aged eighteen , en route to Julia, my first girlfriend vacationing in Saint-Cast, Bretagne, together with her parents and sister, I drove to Blainville-Crevon and visited Duchamp’s place of birth, although I wasn’t allowed to enter the house. My guides were the pictures taken by Serge Stauffer from his own travel there, published in Dieter Daniels’s aforementioned catalogue. I also went to visit Duchamp’s grave at the Cimetière Monumental in Rouen before driving further up north to where Julia was waiting for me. On my way back, I was able to purchase a bottle dryer in the basement of the BHV department store.
- On November 1, 1990, at age nineteen and with the same car, a used white 1980s BMW 3 series my godmother had given to me for my eighteenth birthday, a friend and I drove to Villiers-sous-Grez to visit Teeny Duchamp, upon her invitation, for an unforgettable lunch. Sophie Matisse and Antoine Monnier were in attendance. As a gift and in a shoebox with two holes for the eyes to peep through, we had built a miniature version of Étant donnés (1946–1966). We didn’t play chess, so had to decline Teeny’s kind offer to play. It was one of the most amazing experiences of our lives. My friend still keeps the cake in his freezer, which we were presented with that day as provision for our way back home. It reads “Duchamp’s cake” written with a blue marker onto the aluminum wrap.
- At twenty, a friend and I, Jens Kiefer (the same friend I went to visit Teeny Duchamp with), started “Die Aussenseite des Elementes” (1991–2003), what eventually came to be known as an international anthology of contemporary art and literature. Inspired by Duchamp, all contributions were published on loose sheets of paper within a cardboard box. Its first number contained pictures of Julia in the nude posing with a snow shovel, a bicycle wheel on a stool, and a bottle dryer; as well as my very first essay on Duchamp. Julia would later study fashion at the Royal Academy of Fine Arts in Antwerp, where I purchased my very first artwork, Renvoi Miroirique, a 1964 etching of Duchamp’s Fountain (1917), from Ronny van de Velde.
- At twenty-three I received a scholarship to study at NYU for one year. I would end up staying in New York until 2003. In 1995 however, I barely knew anyone there. Upon my arrival, at his apartment on West 4th and Broadway, I visited Francis M. Naumann, as his books on Dada and Duchamp meant the world to me. I was delighted to run off to libraries and archives and do research for his forthcoming publications and shows. As for all things Duchamp, I only got started then and there.
Some years ago, in a conversation with Molly Nesbit and Hans Ulrich Obrist, published as an introduction to The Indefinite Duchamp, the former inquired about the doors that opened for us through Duchamp. More than anything, he has been an essential and amazing guide to navigate through my own life. I am forever grateful for having had the privilege to encounter him through others early on in my life. There’s only one Marcel to whom I owe more: Marcel Proust.