Vulpes Libris

A collective of bibliophiles talking about books. Book Fox (vulpes libris): small bibliovorous mammal of overactive imagination and uncommonly large bookshop expenses. Habitat: anywhere the rustle of pages can be heard.

Picasso and the Chess Player by Larry Witham

picasso-duchamp My first impression of this book was of a rivalry between Pablo Picasso and Marcel Duchamp, but that really wasn’t the case. Though they had met, their goals and philosophy about art were so different that they weren’t competitors. Duchamp is the chess player of the title and though the author tries to make a case that chess meant more to Duchamp than art, I felt that it was more of a serious hobby and one part of a busy life. Picasso’s prolific output is well known; art was the main focus of his life, with romantic relationships a distant second. Duchamp left “a small but highly concentrated body of work” and enjoyed exploring the philosophy of art as much as making it. He is best known for outrageously exhibiting a urinal labeled as a “Fountain”, part of his “readymade” period, where he proposed that anything could be art, even everyday objects. The shock of those objects lasted much longer than his interest and was only one of many ideas on the meaning of art which he delved into in his lifetime. He also curated exhibits, cataloged patrons’ collections, and traveled to at least 3 continents.
Strangely, for an art book, there’s not a whole lot about the actual art either man created, though there is some brief discussion about their mediums. Duchamp used a number of unconventional materials over the years, such as glass, wires and plastic, while Picasso stuck to traditional mediums. The book is actually about their reputations and the influence they had on the world of art during their lifetimes and after. The subtitle is “…the Battle for the Soul of Modern Art” and that truly is the focus. In fact, this book could appeal to someone more interested in pop culture than art. It’s also a good comparison of how artists react to events, both globally and personally through their work and lifestyle. And it stands as a lesson on how reputation is not always based on one’s art, but sometimes on publicity and interpretation instead.
I didn’t always agree with the conclusions of the author, but the book provided a good overview of the two artist’s lives and their influence. Plus, it provided much food for thought on art and the effects of it on both individuals and society at large.
University Press of New England 2013 357 pp. ISBN 978-1-61168-253-3

2 comments on “Picasso and the Chess Player by Larry Witham

  1. Sue Williams
    July 28, 2014

    You can make me interested in an art book, Jackie! I think the mediums they used would bore me but I want to know more about this duChamp guy, I have never heard of him until now. Anyway, thank you for opening up another path of interest for me. Oh there are so many doors to go through.

  2. Pingback: The Art of Rivalry by Sebastian Smee | Vulpes Libris

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