Doin' it by Threes

Left to right: Dante, St. Thomas Aquinas, Aristotle

Left to right: Dante, St. Thomas Aquinas, Aristotle

Give credit at the end:

--firstly, to the model of the great medieval Italian poet Dante's Divine Comedy written in terza'rima although it concludes with the report of experiencing the brilliant gleam of the Unity
--and secondly, to St. Thomas Aquinas whose life became dedicated to perfecting a rigorously trinitarian conceptual philosophy, the writing down of which was concluded in mid-sentence as he, too, experienced a. vision of the Unity
--and thirdly, to keep it tidy, to Aristotle of the "three unities" of poetics, or the three elements of a syllogism, or perhaps even more appropriately to Pythagoras of triangle fame.

"Three Coins in the Fountain."
Three eggs in the skillet of Buck Mulligan in Joyce's Ulysses.
Day of the Triffids by John Wyndham.
Trialectics by Oscar Ichazo.
George Gammow, One, Two, Three, Infinity, signed.

Trois estoppages etalon

  • MD's production of pieces by 3s
  • 1st = Pharmacie
  • 1st kinetic sculpture, ready-made = Bicycle Wheel
  • BUT MD invented the term "ready-made" which he found ready-made, waiting for him in America. It was the first word/phrase he learned that he could really use.
  • MD arrived in NY at noon, June 15, 1915--aboard the 8.2. Rochambeau: RO, CRAM, BO (Rock, scissors, paper)!

RELATIONS of MD's art to his past, his present, his future. 


1.   Cezanne: whose life extended into the 20th century, until 1906. His sense of artistic integrity, as a model for teaching ethics. Rewald story about meeting his barber, still alive. Proposing the 101st book on Cezanne for his PhD at the Sorbonne, and doing it's something new, in a new way--actually going to inspect the actual sites, using the camera as a precision instrument for field research. Cezanne, worked slowly, meticulously, & left behind few works, but all of them critically sieved, not a weak one among them (unlike Renoir, etc.) CA. Liberman's account of his antisocial behavior (but balanced in MD).] Cezanne enjoyed an inheritance as did MD, which provided both with practical insulation from the insistence of the Material Question, as Master Gurdjeff has referred to the issue. Cezanne never sold more than one or two paintings--but in any case never sold-out. Neither did Duchamp, who could have profited by repeating himself with cubistic paintings, but declined, preferring to live austerely, as did Cezanne.

2.   Monet (with an "0"): who lived well into the 20th century, dying only in 1926. Monet was sly, among the first of the Impressionists actually to sell his work, promoting himself rather successfully throughout his life. But his supremely "optical" painting, following Courbet, epitomized that against which MD rebelled in an effort to return it to the province of the mind.

3. Manet (with an "A"): MD's favorite artist, an elegant and intense painter who died April 30, 1883, some 4 years before MD was born (as his reincarnation?) The story of the asparagus--the single stalk which Manet painted for a client who had purchased a painting of a bunch of asparagus and had liked it so much; is the story apocryphal that Manet had eaten one stalk while painting them, and sought to replace it? Or what? [Source...?]

Dejeuner sur l'herbe = Manet's masterpiece, which art historians love because it shows such clear derivation from (or better, inspiration by) Marcantonio Raimondi's print--itself derived from an antique prototype. Dictionary article (under "M") on relationship of Dejeuner  to Great Glass, MD's own extraordinary 4-dimensional masterpiece. This line of influence continues through to MD's last, posthmus piece, the installation in Philly of Given...

Present (MD's contemporaries):

1.    Salvador Dali. Outrageous sense of humor and audaciously unconventional personal style (MD was elegant, often understated, while SD was flamboyant, impossible to overlook if anywhere in the vicinity). Duchamp had a lofty, aristocratic bearing; Deli was haughty and overbearing--and perhaps therefore much more popular with the American public finally, who responded to the caricature of degenerate Continental nobility and mad but talented creative spirit. In terms of gestures, Dali's = melodramaticly theatrical, Duchamp's = esquisitely dramaturgical. But Dali deserves the great credit in having struck such blows for eccentricity, non-conformity, and freedom of personal expression by showing just what one could get away with and make it pay, long before Liberace. Ask any average American to name a famous modern artist: Dali's name will be among those most frequently mentioned first; but unless one happens to ask a cultivated (refined?) lover of contemporary arts and letters, Duchamp's name may never be heard.

2.    Pablo Picasso. In many ways the antithesis of Duchamp: Picasso was physically energetic, enormously prolific, repeating and reworking themes and variations; hard-working, physical, "sweaty" energy, so dissimilar to the cool glassiness of Duchamp's polished detachment. What they share, in addition to their technical mastery of diverse media, is particularly evident in Picasso's small pieces of sculpture with their fresh and surprising sense of humor, and his delight in visual puns incorporating found objects into the work of art. A wonderful example showing this aspect of Picasso's personality is the bronze Baboon cast from an assemblage that included a basketball and a toy car. Even so there are many formal and stylistic distinctions between such works and Marcel Duchamp's Ready-mades. Closer to the fun-loving spirit both were able to realize in sculpture is Picasso's famous Bull, the elegant, fortuitous combination of a bicycle seat snout with the handlebars for horns.

If you ask that "most famous modern artist" question of any average American living in Chicago, the answer would probably be Picasso because of his monumental and controversial sculpture in Richard F. Daley Plaza. Probably Picasso could be considered the all-time fourth most famous parson in Chicago, right after Al Capone, Mayor Daley, and the erstwhile slugger for the Chicago Cubs, Ernie Banks. However, if you ask real Cubbie fans "Who was Duchamp?" they would probably answer, "Ernie Banks, yeah, he's still da champ."

3.     Paul Klee. This comparison might seem unlikely at first, because Klee was so Germanic, or at least Schweitzer-Deutsch, while Duchamp was very much the Norman with his Anglo-Gallic affinities. Like Picasso, Klee was hard-working, and immensely productive. Duchamp was immensely kind to many individual younger artists, and extraordinarily generous with his friends. So was Klee, but he was able to work within an institution, as an energetic and devoted teacher for years with the world famous Bauhaus. From those years Klee compiled a brilliant studio textbook, translated and published as The Thinking Eye by George Witenborn (my favorite madcap New York bookseller). But the intimate and witty relationship between Klee's titles and the associated visual imagery is what likens his sensibility so much to that of Duchamp, for all the differences of language. [The first known, and preserved, work of art by Paul Klee, 1883]


Duchamp's influence on later generations has steadily continued to increase, quite anomalous for contemporary art history, and utterly unlike the impact made by any other artist. When he stepped off the boat in 1915 he was surprised to find himself already famous in America. Duchamp was a celebrity, or anyway notorious, ever since his painting of the Nude Descending the Staircase (No. 2, 1912). An art critic of the time, Julian Street, "won himself a small niche in history for his comparison of that painting to an explosion in a shingle factory [get quote from Calvin Tompkins, The Bride and the Bachelors, p.  2. Then ex-president Theodore Roosevelt was prompted to express his mind as an art critic in print, making him as wrong about that (with the benefits of hindsight) as he was about Central American Yankee imperialism.

1.     Rauschenberg: bottle rack, triptych, Q. Erased deKooning.
Gemini, G.E.L., Booster series; studio in NYC.

2.     Johns: Combines with RR, quote about Inventing fire, then what? Rented house in Venice.

3.     Warhol: UCLA, Nice of Chelsea Girls Lew Reed "Heroin". The olkd factory and Max's Kansas City. The prince of multiple images, but in a deeper sense, never repeated himself. Brillo inspired, but differences. Movies, as with MD and Man Ray. Elegant kinetic scupture, as silver balloons at Irving Blum's Ferus Gallery. AW made silver his own color, much as MD made his green, Yves Klein IKB.

[Did Johns also do a Time cover as RR and AW?]

Kurt von Meier