And finally, here’s the third of three Valentine’s Day posts celebrating some of the artists who make us weak in the knees.
Oh Sophie – I’ve Calle-d and called but you never answer…
You encounter so many inspiring artists here in the Art Library that you can never have a crush on just one. In the way of crushes, the flame will burn bright for one artist for a couple of days only to shift to another when the next sexy new book comes along.
My choice for Valentine’s Day came down to two artists: Sophie Calle and Marcel Duchamp – or more accurately his female alter ego, Rrose Selavy. Ever the painful punster, Duchamp’s cross-dressing name is pronounced “Eros, c’est la vie…”
Yes, love is life, and since we’ve already featured another gender-bending representative in Claude Cahun, I’ll gush about Sophie Calle this time.
What can I say, I love the literary types. Her biography in Oxford Art Online describes her as a French photographer, but photography is such a small part of her work. Her photographs aren’t objects for aesthetic appreciation – they’re not “retinal art,” as Duchamp would call it. Instead, they are documentary, telling the elaborate, intimate, obsessive stories which are her true works of art.
In one project that eventually becomes the artist’s book Suite Venitienne, she meets a man at an exhibition opening in Paris and learns that he is soon taking a trip to Venice. She decides to follow him and photograph him there, completely unknown to him.
She bases another book project (Take care of yourself) on an email she receives from a lover breaking up with her. She shares the email with 107 colleagues in different professions – actresses and opera singers, professional archers and chess players – and asks them all to interpret it. Their responses are gathered together into an exhibition and a book that is by turns heartbreaking and hilarious.
Sophie’s work is the logical result of Duchamp’s desire to replace “retinal” art that’s appealing to the eye with an art of ideas and concepts. She has turned herself into a readymade. Just as Duchamp made a simple snow shovel into a work of art by calling it one, she has made portions of her life into a work of art by declaring them so. So maybe I’m not choosing between Marcel Duchamp and Rrose Selavy and Sophie Calle at all – one is the other is the other.
When asked what he did after he gave up making works of art, Duchamp called himself “un respirateur” — a ‘breather.’ I would call Sophie Calle “une obsessioniste.” And what better obsession is there than a good crush?
[With apologies to my wife, Margarite, the greatest possible artist-crush. Happy Valentine's Day!]