Saturday, 16 January 2010

Doorknobs and Duchamps

Believe it or not an adjoining door – an orifice - connects Marcel Duchamp and Larry Grayson. As we all know, Grayson’s catchphrase was “shut that door” - you can still ‘get it’ on vinyl and DVD; Duchamp too relished wordplay - enjoyed nothing more than a good pun (the night he died, he was reading Alphonse Allais). Duchamp believed naming something transforms it – and would have appreciated Grayson’s wordplay and role-play; both men punned, both camped-it-up, both men played with our perception of doors (doors of perception?).

But first, consider Duchamp’s appropriation of the Mona Lisa (1919). He gave her a beard, moustache (convincingly turning her into a man) and added the inscription L.A.O.O.Q. (pronounced in French as Elle a chaud au cul, ‘she has hot ass’): Grayson would been 'at home' with Duchamp, as Duchamp too had something to say about the opening and shutting of doors.

Much of Duchamp’s oeuvre illustrates the reconciliation of opposites – of contradictory or opposing entities – and perhaps the clearest example of this can be seen in a work simply known as Door: 11 rue Larrey, a fully functioning door Duchamp designed to connect two rooms in the tiny apartment he’d recently moved into in 1927 on the rue Larrey in Paris. This door was located in the corner of the main living area, positioned in such a way as to close the entrance either to the bedroom or the bathroom, but not both at the same time! Duchamp’s Door functions in opposition to the axiom implicit in the common adage “a door must be open or closed”; so if Larry Grayson had found himself in Duchamp’s cramped apartment on 11 rue Larrey, he may well have felt at home, but he couldn’t have “shut that door”.

So where are we? Larry Grayson minces down the rue Larrey, meets Duchamp and is lost for words – can’t “shut that door”; but as one door fails to close, another opens and we’re back outside on the street: Danny La Rue, remember him? After working in a fashion store in Exeter and a stint in the Navy Danny La Rue (1927-2009) had a glittering and glamorous career as one of the most popular and prolific entertainers Britain has ever known; La Rue entertained the Queen, looking like a Queen. In his legendary drag-act La Rue impersonated such diverse female icons as Marlene Deitrich, Zsa Zsa Gabor and Margret Thatcher. Bob Hope described him as “the most glamorous woman in the world” But clearly, Bob Hope never met Rose Selavy, Marcel Duchamp's alter ego; Rose Selavy (a reconciliation of opposing sexual identities).

A portrait of Duchamp, done-up as Rose Selavy, appeared on a perfume bottle, Belle Haleine, eau de voilette (Beautiful Breath: Veil Water) in 1921. But Duchamp couldn’t have had beautiful breath: he, like me, puffed cigars. But even something as macho, phallic and poking-out as a cigar, can be reconciled (as famine) by a puff.

No comments:

Post a Comment