The Bride and the Bachelors: Duchamp with Cage, Cunningham, Rauschenberg and Johns at the Barbican, London

The Bride and the Bachelors: Duchamp with Cage, Cunningham, Rauschenberg and Johns has now opened at the Barbican. The show explores Marcel Duchamp’s footprint on contemporary American art, as well as his relationship with four modern masters in their fields, John Cage, Merce Cunningham, Robert Rauschenberg and Jasper Johns. All four artists came across Duchamp in the founding years of their careers and all embraced his practice to form the beginnings of the pop art movement and the still highly relevant theoretical ideas of bringing art into life. This exhibition displays over 90 works that explore this connection, we’ve picked the top six to keep an eye out for.

1. Marcel Duchamp, Fountain, 1950 (replica of 1917 original)

Although this is not the original, material concerns like this should matter little to the father of conceptual art. Fountain caused a great deal of controversy and debate in its’ day and began the now standard practice of object re-appropriation and of idea over physical form.

2. Marcel Duchamp, Nude Descending a Staircase (No. 2), 1912

As with much of Duchamp’s work, this painting caused a great deal of disagreement when it was first shown. Combining the aesthetic influences of cubism and futurism, a painting that is now quite clearly a masterpiece was first rejected from The Society of Independent Artists in Paris on the grounds of its’ apparently ridiculous title. It was claimed “a nude never descends the stairs – a nude reclines”.

3. Jasper Johns, Set elements for Merce Cunningham’s Walkaround Time, 1968

Created by both Johns and Cunningham, and imagined one evening at dinner at Duchamp’s house. This work is a great display of how far beyond the formal fine art world Duchamp’s influence spread, with the set and dance piece influenced by both the shapes and movement in Duchamp’s Nude Descending a Staircase, and his suspension of objects in 1915 work, The Large Glass.

4. Marcel Duchamp, Bride, 1912

The Bride is a central character both to this exhibition, and to the working ideas of Duchamp. This painting shows Duchamp’s movement into almost total abstraction from the semi recognisable forms of cubism he previously explored. Here, he creates a portrait of the human form shown entirely through mechanical shapes and smooth curves. This level of abstraction was almost entirely unheard of and pushed the work of Duchamp even further into the realms of conceptual form.

5. Robert Rauschenberg, Bride’s Folly, 1959

Created in Rauschenberg’s signature style, this can be seen as a direct answer to Duchamp’s Bride, brought up to date and re-imagined in the late 50s world of pop art. Fragments of colour and movement suggest this work was intended as a rehash of Duchamp’s original. It acts as a clear indication that the ideas of Duchamp were still threaded through contemporary art, and underpinned a large portion of art happening throughout the 20th Century.

6. Philippe Parreno, Live Performances, 2013

Contemporary artist Philippe Parreno has devised a series of live performances to be shown throughout the exhibition on weekends and Thursday nights. The performance is influenced by all five masters as a way of bringing all the ideas and works to life. Created to bring to mind the idea of a ghost, and of presence and absence, the live performance mixes two pianos playing live Cage scores while the dancers feet can be heard beating the floor.

Emily Steer

The Bride and the Bachelors: Duchamp with Cage, Cunningham, Rauschenberg and Johns, The Barbican, 14 February until 9 June, Silk Street, London, EC2Y 8DS.


1. Marcel Duchamp, Fountain, 1950 (replica of 1917 original) © Succession Marcel Duchamp, 2013, ADAGP/Paris, DACS/London.
Robert Rauschenberg Bride’s Folly, 1959 © The Robert Rauschenberg Foundation. DACS, London/VAGA, New York 2013.
Jasper Johns, Dancers on a Plane, 1979 © Jasper Johns / VAGA, New York / DACS, London 2013.