Dallas Central Library will celebrate the spirit of Duchamp and the artists he inspired Saturday with casual music, a ballet parade and a peculiar time traveler named Professor Mutt. The event honors the "daddy of Dada" on what would have been his 130th birthday.
Performer Chris Merlick says Duchamp's work reacted to the cultural climate surrounding World War I. He pioneered the concept of "it’s art because I say it is" with his readymade sculptures and his imaginative, seemingly fourth-dimension paintings such as “Nudes Descending A Staircase No. 2,” which had a layered aesthetic that would later inspire art movements like cubism and Dadaism.
“That really turned people on their ears in terms of what he was doing with a painting, and that really kind of freaked people out, which I like,” Merlick says. “That really resonated with me — going against what a lot of people's expectations are a lot of the times.”
"A lot of people understood that [art] was about beauty. It was about craftsmanship by the artist, and he wanted to challenge that notion. To me, he was like the first punk rocker." – Chris Merlick
Duchamp came from a family of visual artists but wasn’t just a painter and sculptor; he was also an author and dedicated chess player, but he is best known for his impact on the art world.
“He kind of invented what is referred to as the readymade, which is just taking an object that exists in the world and is not created by the artist and putting it in a setting that is an art setting,” Merlick says.
Dallas Neo-Classical Ballet will perform a re-creation of the 1917 ballet Parade. Ballet director Emilie Skinner says that the performance is visually inspired by the Dadaist movement as a whole but is still in the spirit of the era’s anti-upper-class sentiment.
It premiered in Paris in 1917, with music composed by Erik Satie and costumes designed by Picasso, who was a contemporary of Duchamp but also sort of a rival. Skinner says the costumes were reconceived with a more modern twist by local artist Francisco Moreno.
Merlick says the other act, Professor Mutt, has an imaginative backstory as a “personal friend of Duchamp” who created a time machine to visit the future and build the "Duchampaphones" as an ode to the artist. The piece is essentially a re-creation of Duchamp's "Bicycle Wheel" sculpture turned into bizarre synthesizers.
Artist Thor Johnson will be there, too, playing a didgeridoo with Professor Mutt.
Johnson says Duchamp, while not as famous today as his contemporaries, is fondly remembered as a trickster hero.
“He’s more difficult, I’d say, than Picasso,” Johnson says, adding that the performance will try to reflect Duchamp's free spirit.
“A lot of people understood that [art] was about beauty. It was about craftsmanship by the artist, and he wanted to challenge that notion,” Merlick says. “To me, he was like the first punk rocker.”
Dada at the Library, 8-10 p.m. Saturday, July 29, J. Erik Jonsson Central Library, 1515 Young St., free.