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Variations on a theme by Duchamp

Glasstire | Wednesday, Jun 04, 2014

Variations on a theme by Duchamp

L: Andy Warhol, Campbell’s Soup Can (Tomato), 1968, ©AWF
R: Mark Rothko, White over Red, 1957


Artists quote each other all the time, by way of homage, allusion, reference, rhyme and so forth, and have been doing so forever. But sometimes, especially in more recent times, such quoting gets raised up a notch into something qualitatively different, a fresh gambit (featuring a virtually one-to-one transposition) whose resultant works tend to get grouped together under the rubric “appropriation.”

For example, Andy Warhol’s Campbell’s Soup can paintings were just blown up renditions of regular Campbell’s Soup cans—though, granted, they played all sorts of riffs on contemporary artistic practice, for instance offering a sly, straight-faced Pop commentary on the transcendent aspirations claimed for the stacked color clouds of Rothko’s high mid-period, immediately prior. (Dave Hickey recalls how he once asked Warhol just what exactly the difference was between a soup can and a Rothko, to which Andy, typically unfazed, immediately replied, "That's easy: Mr. Campbell signs his on the front.") Read and see more...