Richard Hamilton 1922–2011
Typo/Topography of Marcel Duchamp’s Large Glass
Laminated inkjet print on paper on aluminium, two panels
Unconfirmed: 2665 x 1700mm
Purchased from Gagosian Gallery, London 4004
on paper, print
Gagosian Gallery, London
Typo/Topography of Marcel Duchamp’s Large Glass combines the visual imagery of Duchamp’s major work, The Bride Stripped Bare by her Bachelors, Even, otherwise known as the Large Glass, 1915–23 (Tate T02011), with notes the artist made when planning the work’s structure. It comprises two sheets of paper, mounted on aluminium, on which are printed small clusters of notes in a variety of type and colour superimposed on a computer-generated diagram of the Large Glass.
Hamilton has intimate knowledge of the physical structure of the Large Glass, having created a reconstruction of it, according to instructions he deciphered from the notes in the Green Box, for Duchamp’s retrospective at the Tate Gallery in 1966, when Duchamp acknowledged Hamilton’s version as a copie conforme by signing it. The Green Box (also known as The Bride Stripped Bare by her Bachelors Even, Tate T07744) comprises some ‘ninety-three documents (photographs, drawings and manuscript notes of the years 1911–15) as well as a plate in colour’, published by Duchamp in 1934, more than ten years after he had declared the Large Glass definitely unfinished. These documents are facsimile reproductions of his notes and sketchy diagrams, printed by collotype in an edition of 320 and presented in a green box. After another long interval, in 1967 Duchamp released a further seventy-nine notes relating to the Large Glass in another box of facsimile reproductions called A L’Infinitif or In the Infinitive (also known as the White Box), produced in an edition of 150 by Cordier & Ekstrom, Inc.
Hamilton’s print combines seventy-seven textual and diagrammatic Green Box notes with sixteen notes from the White Box, presented typographically transformed by Hamilton. In the late 1950s Richard Hamilton and George Heard Hamilton (no relation) collaboratively translated, ordered and rendered typographically the textual and diagrammatic notes of the Green Box in a book entitled The Bride Stripped Bare by her Bachelors, Even / A Typographic Version by Richard Hamilton of Marcel Duchamp’s Green Box (published New York and London, 1960). Forty years later, Richard Hamilton worked with Ecke Bonk and Jackie Matisse Monnier to produce a similar ‘typotranslation’ of the White Box which they published in 1999.
Hamilton’s involvement with Duchamp stems from his first encounter with the Green Box at the London home of the artist Roland Penrose (1900–1984) in the late 1940s. The artist Nigel Henderson (1917–1985), a fellow student at the Slade School of Art, suggested one day that they visit the Penroses for tea, where he ‘made free of Roland’s library for my benefit’. Hamilton was immediately fascinated. In his essay ‘Towards a Typographic Rendering of the Green Box’, first published in Uppercase 2 in 1959, Hamilton explains that prior to 1959 there had been four published translations into English of Duchamp’s notes: Jacob Bronowski had translated four (published 1932 in This Quarter); Humphrey Jennings had translated part of André Breton’s article ‘La Phare de la Mariée’, or ‘The Lighthouse of the Bride’, published in Minotaur No.6 which contained part of the note headed ‘La Mariée mise a nu par ses célibataires’ (published 1938 in London Bulletin); Edouard Roditi had translated the complete Breton article (published 1945 in View); and most significantly George Heard Hamilton had translated twenty-five notes (published in a limited edition of 400 in Marcel Duchamp from the Green Box, Readymade Press, New Haven 1957). By 1956 Richard Hamilton was working on deciphering the clues to the structure of the Large Glass that Breton had analysed from Duchamp’s notes and elaborated in his essay ‘La Phare de la Marié’. From Breton’s essay, Hamilton found it possible to conceive ‘that here in the Glass, “where the rigorously logical and expected are married to the arbitrary and gratuitous” an epic saga, abstruse but comprehensible, was enacted’. That year he presented a diagram that he had made of Duchamp’s Glass and its relationship to the Green Box notes in a talk given at the Institute of Contemporary Arts, London. He sent a copy of the diagram to Duchamp, requesting that Duchamp correct or confirm Hamilton’s visual understanding of the older artist’s notes. Duchamp replied a year later, inviting Hamilton to collaborate with George Heard Hamilton, Professor of History of Art, Yale University, on a complete English version of the Green Box notes.
Over the next few years, Hamilton and Duchamp corresponded regularly about the Green Box translation. At this point, Hamilton was using to a copy of the Green Box owned by Nigel Henderson. George Heard translated from French to English (using American rather than English spelling and style to reflect the fact that Duchamp was based in the USA), Duchamp corrected and Hamilton, already interested in modes of representation and replication (such as technological processes and printing techniques), selected the type and made decisions about order and pagination. He used a variety of types in order to show changes of hand. Hamilton commented that individual papers in the box are:
packed with clues but these clues must be patched together with those from other papers in the box to build the overall concept. There are often restatements, modifications and developments of the same idea on different sheets … One continually senses, when handling the documents of the box, a desire to be perfectly explicit simultaneously with an indifference as to the result. The expression of the urge, rather than its conclusions, is important – one variant is as valuable as another and the idea gets a bonus from this multiplicity of expression – the system is synergetic. It is this attitude that makes it essential to reproduce every mark if the philosophic impact of the original is not to be lost. The function of the Green Box is to construct a terminology for the Glass. If [Duchamp’s note] ‘Preface’ is placed in its context and its relationship to the Glass is illustrated it will become apparent how indispensable is the box to a complete experience of the painting.
Duchamp had himself commented of the Green Box: ‘I wanted that album to go with the Glass, and to be consulted when seeing the Glass because, as I see it, it must not be “looked at” in the aesthetic sense of the word. One must consult the book, and see the two together. The conjunction of the two things entirely removed the retinal aspect that I don’t like.’ Famously opposed to what he dubbed ‘retinal’ painting – art that appealed only to the eye or a sensual aesthetic, rather than to the mind – with the publication of his notes in Green Box in 1934 as a companion to his definitively unfinished revolutionary painting, Duchamp initiated a focus on intellectual process as the subject or material of art. This focus is central to contemporary art today.
The effect of his immersion in Duchamp’s conceptualisation of process may be seen in all Hamilton’s work from the late 1950s onwards, but most overtly in his exploration and development of printmaking techniques. A celebration of the successive stages of images that may start as drawn and or collaged studies and then go through processes to become paintings or prints in all their various states of development and, more recently combined with photography to create digital collage, has become one of the defining features of Hamilton’s oeuvre. In recent years his play on process has become increasingly focused on his personal history in relation to Duchamp: in his 1999 print, A mirrorical return (Tate P78289), the image of a naked young woman hovers inside a perspectivally swivelled image of the lower panel of the Large Glass masquerading as a picture on the wall of a passageway in the artist’s own home. The title of this print is derived from a term Duchamp used in a note for the Large Glass published in facsimile form in 1934 in the Green Box (Tate T07744).
Hamilton’s ongoing reconstruction and transformation from one medium to another of Duchamp’s Large Glass (as well of many of his own images) emulates the processes of replication undertaken or authorised by Duchamp on many of his own most famous works over several decades after their initial conception. As Hamilton has commented: ‘Marcel Duchamp’s persistent efforts to knock Art’s halo askew took number as his most powerful weapon. To make more of a thing deprived the original of a synthetic value. The thought alone, carried by a signifier of that thought (contrived or ‘ready-made’), had to bear the aesthetic weight. His delight in the idea that his Large Glass masterpiece should be replicated was another aspect of his rejection of the notion of the artist’s godlike touch.’ Thus such ‘readymades’ as Fountain (1917, replica 1964, see Tate T07573); ‘semi-readymades’ 3 Standard Stoppages (1913–14, replica 1964, Tate T07507), Fresh Widow (1920, replica 1964, Tate T07282) and Why Not Sneeze Rose Sélavy? (1921, replica 1964, Tate T07508); and the erotic objects Female Fig Leaf (1950, cast 1961, Tate T07279), Dart Object (1951, cast 1962, Tate T07980) and Wedge of Chastity (1951–2, cast 1963, Tate T07981) have all been remade in editions. A precursor of all these, in 1934 the Green Box exploited replication through printing in a typically paradoxical and commercially acute fashion – recycling the scrappy by-products of a major work through the old-fashioned luxury medium of collotype printing, effectively transforming the evidence of the artist’s thought processes into editioned high art.
As well as authorising replicas of the Large Glass (two during his life-time – the first made by Ulf Linde in Stockholm, the second by Hamilton) and a photograph printed on transparent celluloid for his work, From or by Marcel Duchamp or Rose Sélavy (The Box in a Valise) (Tate L02092), Duchamp himself returned to the Large Glass in 1965 with a series of etchings of individual elements – The Bride, The Top Inscription, The Nine Malic Moulds, the Sieves, The Oculist Witnesses, The Water Mill, The Chocolate Grinder, The Large Glass (Etching) and finally The Large Glass Completed. In making his reconstruction of Duchamp’s Large Glass in 1965–6, Hamilton followed Duchamp’s procedure in first making replicas of the studies of parts of the Glass that Duchamp had found necessary to make to check his innovative use of lead wire and paint on sheet lead to create coloured compositions set in glass. Hamilton created replicas of Glider Containing a Water Mill in Neighbouring Metals 1913–15 (Philadelphia Museum of Art) and Nine Malic Moulds 1914–15 (Alexina Duchamp, France), both of which Duchamp had executed himself. Hamilton then went on to make reconstructions of the procedures Duchamp had not been able to test – the Occulist Witnesses and the Sieves. Both of these elements, set in the lower part of the Glass, required processes that Hamilton did not have time for in order to complete his version of the Glass for Duchamp’s retrospective at the Tate Gallery in 1966. For Occulist witnesses, 1968, Hamilton substituted printing processes for the original method of silvering a glass panel and then painstakingly scraping the silver away to reveal the occulists’ charts. Again, for Sieves, 1971, Hamilton had recourse to printing processes, screenprinting the outline of the sieves onto the glass before adding dust.
Hamilton’s Typo/Topography may be seen as an embodiment of the ‘completely personal and new means of expression … a wedding of mental and visual reactions’ that Duchamp described in a BBC interview with Richard Hamilton and George Heard Hamilton in 1959 when talking about the Large Glass. The print’s title conflates the notions of typographical transformation and a topography – the mapping or detailed delineation of a locality playing on the idea of a ‘typo’ or a typed error. Duchamp’s notes include frequent deletions, leaving the original word more or less visible, and Hamilton was forced to make a decision on how to represent these when he made the typographical translations. In addition, Hamilton’s title makes witty allusion to a typographic error appropriated by Duchamp in 1917: the title Rongwrong, printed on the covering page of an eight-page review, of which only one issue was ever published. Conceived by Duchamp with Henri-Pierre Roché and Beatrice Wood, the review was to have been titled Wrongwrong, but a printer’s error provided a chance intervention that Duchamp was happy to embrace.
The Typo/Topography print shows the most streamlined version of Duchamp’s original sketchy diagrams, first converted into more printable form in the translation and then processed by computer to make a digitally enhanced image. In the last year of his life, Duchamp explained that he used glass as the medium for his painting, the Large Glass, in order to avoid having to paint a background. Just as the shattering of the original Large Glass and its repair by Duchamp in some way completed the work, filling empty space (the background ‘landscape’) with the patterning of the fracture, Hamilton’s addition of the notes completes the work in another way.
Hamilton had been working on Typo/topography of Marcel Duchamp’s Large Glass for several years, experimenting with computer programmes and printing methods and materials, before he produced the definitive version in 2003. The first version was produced in French for a retrospective of Duchamp’s notes at the Centre Pompidou in 2000 entitled Eau & gaz à tous les étages. A second version was produced in English for an exhibition at the Boijmans Van Beuningen Museum in Rotterdam the following year. The third version (2001–2), made in two examples also in English, was produced specifically for the Tate Triennial Exhibition, Days Like These held at Tate Britain in 2003 and for Hamilton’s retrospective at MACBA, Barcelona, the same year.
Hamilton was dissatisfied with the results of the third version as he felt that the ink colours did not have sufficient longevity. Always pushing the technology to its limits, in 2003 he began to work on a fourth version of which the Philadelphia Museum of Art purchased the new trial proof. He was unable to match a printer of sufficient dimensions (sixty inches) with the necessary quality and control of ink colour. In the end, the artist worked with the Centre for Fine Print Research at the University of the West of England, Bristol. Its sixty inch Vector-compatible Roland ink jet printer allowed him to print each of the two panels separately, thus reproducing the structure of the two separate panels or panes of glass in the Large Glass. Using the computer programme Adobe Illustrator, Hamilton created two images (the upper and lower panels) made up of dozens of layers of colour. To ensure that each of the colours in the final prints matched those sought by the artist, it was necessary to isolate and proof each layer. Once the key colours had been set at the correct level, each panel was printed in a single run. Printing and proofing were undertaken by Steve Hoskins (Director) and Paul Laidler (Research Associate) at the Centre for Fine Print Research under Hamilton’s supervision.
Typo/Topography of Marcel Duchamp’s Large Glass was produced in an edition of five plus one artist’s proof. A seventh copy from this print run was sold to the Philadelphia Museum of Art to replace the trial proof copy they had acquired earlier. The edition was printed on 300gsm Somerset Enhanced artist quality paper using pigmented inks before individual prints were signed and numbered by the artist. Each of the two panels is individually mounted and framed behind glass. Following the structure of the Large Glass, they are displayed hanging one above the other. Tate’s copy is the first in the edition, distributed by Gagosian Gallery, London.
June 2007, revised October 2009