Marcel Duchamp: Nude Descending Stairway
Marcel Duchamp: Nude Descending Stairway

Out of this chaos of over-lapping flat planes that look like a pack of cards spread out, the spectator is supposed to resolve a "Nude Descending Stairway," which, by reason of its manner of presentation, is calculated to give one a sense of progressive motion such as the succession of images in a moving picture produce. But instead of a sense of movement one simply is conscious of a series of flat figures, one overlapping the other, the sum total of which remains no less fixed than each separate unit and the attempt to achieve an illusion of motion without the concomitant physical and mechanical means employed by a moving picture results in an amusing failure, very entertaining as a new kind of parlor game but of very little value as art. But admitting that this kinetoscopic arrangement of surfaces does produce in the minds of certain spectators a sense of motion, it must be conceded that this, regarded as an end in itself, is a very puerile use of art and in no sense an amplification of its possibilities.

The Japanese long ago succeeded in solving this visual problem of movement in art, but with them it never degenerated into being practiced and accepted as an end in itself; it was only one of the means employed to give a heightened sense of the fluidity of life.

Moreover, if we of to-day desire to be thrilled by a vivid impression of motion we have only to face an onrushing express train coming toward us at top speed, or if it requires a gyrating kaleidoscopic motion to stir our sensibilities into activity one needs only walk up Broadway (or any other main thoroughfare in the large cities of the country) of an evening and I venture to say you will be more be-dazzled in five minutes of concentrated attention on the moving electric signs than in an hour with the most extreme Futurist.

Certain of these vain strivings after originality are no doubt based upon the effects of color and motion produced in a kaleidoscope, and again one feels the absence of the particular quality that gives interest to the object copied, namely: the purity and transparency of color and the constantly changing pattern of color made by turning the kaleidoscope which is its chief charm and source of pleasure. In attempting to simulate this effect they have overlap ped filmy veils of vivid color that of course remain fixed, arbitrary patterns and in nowise give one the sensations produced by a kaleidoscope.

This movement has gained its impetus largely from the very general revolt against materialism that is substituting a new individualism for the old realism and I have no doubt that some of these men are sincerely and earnestly trying to discover a new form that shall express with greater intensity the new feelings and emotions aroused in man by all the objects in the natural world. But I have even less doubt that a very large number of the men who are its chief pontiffs are moved by nothing more laudable than a desire for reclame and quick financial returns. They have so far been eminently successful in both, once more proving the truth of P. T. Barnum's well known dictum that: "The Public loves to be hum-buged" which recalls Camille Mauclair's delightful little story about the enterprising Palombaro, recently published in "Comaedia". Palombaro is one of those heaven-sent geniuses whose inspired productions have made the fame and fortune of certain critics, collectors and discerning dealers, all of whom are sympathetically characterized by the gentle pen of Mauclair in the following ironical account of an imaginary but very possible occurence:

"Grondin, nervous and disheartened paced up and down his picture shop. Everything there was spic and span; but nevertheless he called the boy and ordered him to give everything a final touch. And in the nick of time he discovered that he had kept under his arm, through an old and useful, tho' inelegant custom of his whilom profession, a napkin, of which he now quickly rid himself. Satisfied at last he glanced at the new violet rosette, which ornamented his lapel, and waited. - Grondin was about to receive a visit from a group of important admirers of a young Italian futurist, Giuseppe Palombaro, who were going to introduce to him the man and his works, which would honor his gallery by its being chosen among the many as a shelter for their exposition. A great affair, a big advertisement, large profits and new lustre for the firm of Grondin, already well known as the hotbed of coming genius!

The arrival was most imposing. Four automobiles stopped at the door, three taxis and one limousine. From the latter emerged first its owner, the celebrated collector, Alcide Gluant, then, Rutilant, the celebrated critic of premieres, Matois the merchant, and finally Palombaro the master. From the other vehicles issued the members of the Committee of the International Exposition of the "Sans Principes", who were to act as patrons for the Exposition of Palombaro's pictures. They comprised the Englishman Green Cheese, the German Hundsfott, authorized representative of the firm Pigson & Hundsfott experts, the Frenchman Exigut, the "wild" painter, whose tall figure dominated the group, a fat Turk named Chetif-bey, who popularized Cubism at Stambol, Pomposo, the little Milanese sculptor and the sallow Spaniard who was seen everywhere, of whom neither name nor picture was known, and of whom the only thing known was that he descended from Greco by his women folks. And these different people hurriedly put down a number of pictures which had been brought by them in the taxis and arranged them in order whilst Grondin heaped compliments upon Rutilant, Gluant and Palombaro. The face of the latter piqued him without his knowing why, and in his stubborn memory he kept comparing it with vague recollections.