how did duchamp and the surrealists challenge the definition of art?
The roots of Dada lay in pre-war avant-garde. The term anti-art, a precursor to Dada, was coined by Marcel Duchamp around 1913 to characterize works which challenge accepted definitions of art. Cubism and the development of collage and abstract art would inform the movement’s detachment from the constraints of reality and convention. The work of French poets, Italian Futurists and the German Expressionists would influence Dada’s rejection of the tight correlation between words and meaning.
Common to all Surrealistic enterprises was a post-Freudian desire to set free and explore the imaginative and creative powers of the mind. Surrealism was originally Paris based. Its influence spread through a number of journals and international exhibitions, the most important examples of the latter being the International Surrealist Exhibition at the New Burlington Galleries, London and the Fantastic Art Dada, Surrealism at the Museum of Modern Art, New York, both held in 1936.
However, Buchloh’s reading, more an introduction to an interpretation of Marcel Broodthaers’s institutional critique than a historicization of Duchamp’s installation, leaves unexplored how Duchamp’s construction displaced Surrealist practice from other developments: namely, the “return to a habitable world” concurrently undertaken in Breton’s myth and in Kiesler’s exhibition design. Duchamp’s installation offered not just a general de-deification of Surrealism, but contested Kiesler’s fantasy of framelessness.  Instead of providing an insulating mythological womb protecting against displacement, Duchamp’s installation in fact forced artists to experience their displaced status firsthand in the disorganized and disorganizing space of his installation and in the disorientation of their objects in that space. This, in effect, introduced a political framework to a display of art intent on escaping it.
Additionally, Duchamp’s installation challenged the psychological depth of Matta’s expressionist aesthetics built upon that perspective. Matta frequently explained that his paintings developed “a morphological projection of a psychological state.” Duchamp’s installation, on the other hand, refused any intentional psychic content or metaphysics of interiority. Rather, it set up the conditions for a physical and conceptual experience wholly transpiring during the visitor’s interaction within it. Its logic, instead of being representative or expressive, was performative, blocking any immersion within the displayed paintings. This performative aspect no doubt continued the logic of the readymade, necessitating the viewer’s participation in the creation of meaning.  By forcing viewers to struggle to see the work through the string, which physically interfered with their bodily space, it brought what was the readymade’s collaborative conceptual act in interpretation to a physical level. If, in 1957, Duchamp famously dismissed the creative model where “. . . the artist acts like a mediumistic being who, from the labyrinth beyond time and space, seeks his way out to a clearing,” then he appears to have combated that creative model by inserting the viewer within his own version of a labyrinthine frame in 1942.  Not only do these readings of First Papers appear to contradict the form and function of Duchamp’s installation, but they also plainly fail to take account of the radicality of the labyrinthine structure that they so often cite as an explanatory model (just as they fail to examine the structure of the redefined readymade). By aestheticizing the labyrinth, comparing it to the organizing and rationalizing spatial matrix of perspective, and viewing it as a means for psychological expression and intentional meaning, these readings end up vulgarizing and even dehistoricizing this potentially powerful conceptual complex.
Discover the role of collaboration and play in Dada.
A form of art, developed in the late 1950s, which involves the creation of an enveloping aesthetic or sensory experience in a particular environment, often inviting active engagement or immersion by the spectator.
A modern art museum, on the other hand, with all its enigmatic conceptual art and it’s seemingly pointless everyday-objects-turned-sculptures, can be a frightening and flummoxing experience, but never really boring. People seem to despise the lack of sense that is so apparent in modern and contemporary art but, for me, that lack of sense is the most exciting part. I love walking into a room with a looping video of a girl picking her nose and then shouting ‘hate’ at the top of her lungs. I enjoy looking at a pile of boxes and trying, and failing, to work out what exactly this work represents. I adore the crazed, maniacal performance artists dancing on top of marmalade while simultaneously whipping themselves while a discombobulated crowd looks on. The madness intrigues me.
The iconic artist had a mortal dread of hair, posed as a cheese merchant to outfox the Nazis and made artworks out of sperm. Here’s a dictionary of Duchamp by Thomas Girst
Few artists can boast of having changed the course of art history in the way that Marcel Duchamp did. By challenging the very notion of what is art, his first readymades sent shock waves across the art world that can still be felt today. Duchamp’s ongoing preoccupation with the mechanisms of desire and human sexuality as well as his fondness for wordplay aligns his work with that of Surrealists, although he steadfastly refused to be affiliated with any specific artistic movement per se. In his insistence that art should be driven by ideas above all, Duchamp is generally considered to be the father of Conceptual art. His refusal to follow a conventional artistic path, matched only by a horror of repetition which accounts for the relatively small number of works Duchamp produced in the span of his short career, ultimately led to his withdrawal from the art world. In later years, Duchamp famously spent his time playing chess, even as he labored away in secret at his last enigmatic masterpiece, which was only unveiled after his death.
French Painter and Sculptor