The Large Glass
This is my third unexpected encounter with this piece.
Many years ago, in the Fall semester of 2013, I took an Art History class to satisfy one of my undergraduate electives. It turned out to be one of the best classes I’ve ever taken. The class went over the period from Renaissance to Modern Art and taught me a lot about the different styles and movements. There are some characteristics of art that I can identify visually even now (like Caravaggio’s use of Chiaroscuro). It’s mostly because of the passion of the professor, Dr. Troy Thomas (bless him).
One of the works I studied in the class was a huge glass installation by Marcel Duchamp titled, “The Bride Stripped Bare by Her Bachelors, Even” (also called “The Large Glass”). The Large Glass is a product of the Dada movement that coincided with the first world war. The movement called itself an anti-movement and rejected, with the use of humour and wit, all traditional ideas of the art world at the time. The Fountain – an upturned urinal, also by Duchamp – is a famous example of this. Having been active during the war, Dadaists also believed heavily in “chance”. Studying this piece in class was my first encounter with it.
The Large Glass though is a curious piece. There are many “meanings” ascribed to it, but I find something else about it more interesting. The story goes that Duchamp worked on it for eight years before he abruptly decided that the piece should remain forever incomplete. So it remained, until one day while being transported the piece accidentally caught damage and the glass shattered. Duchamp saw this as the role of “chance” and having reassembled the broken glass decided that the piece was finally complete.
When I first learned this I saw some humor in it which is probably why this story has stuck with me since. About a year later I moved to Philly. Still fresh in the city and in the midst of trying to make it my home, I ran into this piece at the Philadelphia Museum of Art (where the original is located). This was probably the first time I had the experience of seeing in person a piece of art that somehow resonated internally. Though at the time it was only that I knew its story. Philly became a home and that museum became a big part of my time there. When I eventually left Philly though it felt like the closing of a big chapter of my life.
Yesterday, while hosting my brother in Stockholm and trying to show him my view of the city, we went to Moderna Museet. There in one of the rooms, to my complete surprise, I saw The Large Glass again. Turns out that Duchamp had sanctioned three recreations of the piece and while the original remains in the Philadelphia Museum of Art, one of the three recreations stands in Moderna Museet, Stockholm. So here I am again about a year into a new city, trying to make it a home, and here again, this piece casually waltzes into my life like some humorous diacope.
The Bride Stripped Bare by Her Bachelors, Even (The Large Glass). (1915-23). Oil, varnish, lead foil, lead wire, and dust on two glass panels. 109 1/4" x 69 1/4". Philadelphia Museum of Art.