Revolutionary Painting Comes to Northeast Ohio

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by David C. Barnett

A groundbreaking French painting that shocked American audiences a century ago has just gone on display at the Cleveland Museum of Art.  Marcel DuChamp's Nude Descending a Staircase (No. 2) is one of a series of special art loans from around the country to help the Cleveland Museum celebrate its 100th birthday.

Three feet wide and about five feet tall, the DuChamp painting hangs in the museum's modern gallery.  It shows what looks like a series of overlapping images depicting an abstract human form in motion --- almost like a blurry figure speeding along in a comic strip.  As the Cleveland Museum of Art's William Robinson gazes at the work, he minces no words about the man who created it.

"Marcel DuChamp is this incredibly revolutionary artist.  He established the modern persona --- all the way from Dadaism and Surealism, to contemporary performance art, pop and video.  We're looking at his first great work."

Robinson is the museum's curator of Modern European Art.  He says the painting was lambasted by other artists in 1912 Paris as being too frivilous  DuChamp then introduced it the following year at the influential Armory Show in New York, where it didn't exactly get a warm reception, either.

"It was attacked in the press viciously," Robinson says.  "President Teddy Roosevelt compared it to the patterns on the carpet in his bathroom."

But, DuChamps' bold attempt to portray motion in a still image has stood the test of time.  It's on loan from the Philadelphia Museum of Art, and it's one of over a dozen art works from major American collections that will be coming to the Cleveland museum in 2016 --- it's centennial year.

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