alchemy of art: jangling the keys of solomon

With secret sound. The liberation of the subjective self. Magic squares and alchemy in art lending hermetic interpretations to deciphering works of art.It was the irresistible  lure of certain of the Magic Squares of the Third Book, and their tendency to draw the sensitive and overly curious into an obsessive circumstance. It was the occultist as an artist and a symbolist. In this modern occultism , a popular concept of magic was amalgamated into symbolist thinking, particularly that which refers to the visual arts, transforming itself into what would be known as modernist art theory. Dada, an anarchistic blast at bourgeois rationality, was the central vehicle for these esoteric premonitions first articulated by Eliphas Levi, as “anxiety induced” reactions to the modern condition.

Read More: Duchamp’s Green Box contains 94 individual items mostly supposed "facsimiles" (Duchamp's word) of hand-written notes first written between 1911 and 1915, each printed and torn up on templates to match the borders of the scribbled originals. Probably the most spectacular artist`s book of the twentieth century. Only 320 copies were made.---

But Dada may have actually begun in New York, germinating in the salons of Arensberg and Stettheimer, and its anti-historical anti-art implications would carry far into the immediate future; art and the individual as a commodity and how art would be morphed into the entertainment complex where anything can be trivialized to the service of commercial interests.  Its role as a reinforcer of male patriarchy, and an overall aesthetic…Like comparing Otto Dix to the film Cabaret gives an example.

---Somewhat unexpectedly, the attacks were extraordinarily widespread from within the sophisticated New York art community. Peter Schjeldahl in his New Yorker review, ''The Hitler Show'' (April 1, 2002) called the exhibition ''trivial shock,'' ''diletantish sado-masochism,'' ''solemn smut,'' and ''toxic narcissism.'' Michael Kimmelman of the New York Times, both before and after Mirroring Evil opened, declared the exhibition disrespectful and condescending and called it ''cheap and obvious''. He ended his March 15th review commenting on It's the Real Thing - Self Portrait at Buchenwald, 1993, where Alan Schechner, the artist, inserts an image of himself holding a coke can into the famous Margaret Bourke-White photograph of concentration camp survivors. Kimmelman states: ''Really it's just another twist on Duchamp's painted moustache on the Mona Lisa, a work of mischievous irreverence, nothing original, with the psychological ante upped by connection to Hitler Kimmelman dismissed Schechner's explanation of the work functioning in relation to issues of identity and identification, refused to acknowledge any commentary on concentration camp tourism, and ignored how viewers' manipulation of the digital work in time echoes the subtle changes over time we bring to history when looking back from a different, place or context. Read More: image:

Perhaps, as the controversial Rudolf Herz photo montage of the Heiz Hoffman photos of Duchamp and Hitler revealed; the odd juxtposition is not as incongruous as it first appeared. …

Kuspit:”I don’t think it’s so bizarre at all. Duchamp was a terrorist, wasn’t he? [Microphone disturbances] I just wanted to say that I don’t think it’s so bizarre at all. Duchamp was a terrorist and so was Hitler, and Duchamp was a fetish object, as Hitler is. And a lot of art historians, there are a whole group of art historians who click their intellectual heels and make the Duchamp salute these days. They are both fairly disruptive figures. I think Duchamp was an extremely disruptive influence on art, despite the rationalization of it as, quote, conceptual and so forth. So I think it is a wonderful and actually rather insightful connection to put Hitler and Duchamp together.” Read More:

---In sum, perhaps more to the point of an unmasking of Duchamp theChocolate Maker is the meaning ascribed by the Larousse Dictionnaire del’argot to chocolat as a sign of a “pretend dupe who lures or takes in thepublic” ( fausse dupe qui appâte le public ). Nonetheless, we are told by the artisthimself (Note 140) that Duchamp’s Chocolate stands for the “Principle (oradage) of Spontaneity,” and this spontaneous operating principle is what“explains the gyrating movement of the grinder.”--- Read More:

So, much that underlined Duchamp’s ouevre was rooted in the esoteric. It was a recycling of hermetic messages with a wide range of accompanying textual variations which nonetheless convey the same , essentially, hermetic message of alchemic allegory. Some of the symbolism, Moffitt claims, involved direct copying from earlier texts  on the newer context of visual commercial art with; attention to other elements, namely the decidedly overt erotic factor, the references to contemporary science and technology, and the unmistakable presence of fourth-dimensional geometric figures. It is unmistakable, as John F. Moffitt has asserted , that there are important esoteric conclusions to be drawn from Duchamp and his role as pop culture icon at the vanguard of consumerism. The implications can even be stretched to encompass Keynes economic theory , the expansion of the money supply and the role of art in mechanical reproduction as outlined by Walter Benjamin as a culture industry…. Marinetti: Poets and artists of Futurism… remember these principles of an aesthetic of war, that they may illuminate… your struggles for a new poetry and a new sculpture! Benjamin: [Humankind’s] self-alienation has reached the point where it can experience its own annihilation as a supreme aesthetic pleasure. Such is the aestheticizing of politics, as practiced by fascism. Communism replies by politicizing art.

Moffitt: l’allégorie  of Duchamp’s Large Glass can, on at least the purely iconographic level, be nothing but Hermeticism, particularly as expressed through its alchemical, orstrictly physical, applications. In 1916, for in-stance, Duchamp also collaborated with Arensberg in the cryptic redoing of an ordinary dog’s grooming comb; relabeled Peigne , and once secretly inscribed, it rose to new heights of Arensberg-like occult significance(as is revealed in chapter 6). Another blatant example of an interest in thatliterally secret writing and enciphering that was equally shared by Arensbergand Duchamp is the art object called À bruit secret.

---As our vision reveals the the character of the object in spite of its silence, our hearing reveals its character in spite of it its invisibility. In this sense Duchamp's piece is an illustrative exaggeration: any mute object implies object "with hidden noise". Conversely, most of the sounds that we hear might be though of as "with hidden light". The object is always revealed severally, and our understanding of it comes through an interplay of the senses, each complementing the description of the other.--- Read More:

“With Secret Sound” was fabricated by Duchamp on Easter Sunday,April 23, 1916. This curious artifact consists of a ball of twine held between two brass plates that are joined together with four long bolts. This was trulya work of collaboration. Just before its completion, Arensberg put somethingsecret into the ball of twine. Today, that still unknown metallic device stillmakes the object mysteriously rattle when shaken. Not even Duchamp waslet into the secret of Arensberg’s hidden bruitist addition. On the top andthe bottom plates of À bruit secret, there are inscribed three lines of jumbledFrench and English words, many of which are incomplete. Each letter wasplaced into its own square of a uniform size. The results of the inscribedsequences look like this—with a pe

to signify a missing letter and a slash to indicate the spaces deliberately left blank:

1. TOP PLATE:P . G . / / . E C I D E S / / D E B A R R A S S E .L E / / D . S E R T . / / F . U R N I S . E N TA S / / H O W . V . R / / C O R . E S P O N D S2. BOTTOM PLATE:I R . / / C A R . E / / L O N G S E AF . N E , / / . H E A . , / / O . S Q U ET E . U / / S . A R P / / B A R . A I N

The idea was that the dots indicated missing letters, which are to befound somewhere in the same vertical column. The “sentences” apparentlybegin on the bottom (or upper?) plate and are supposedly completed, orbrought to completion, above, in the top (or lower?) plate. Although the results of my attempts to translate the whole text remainotherwise tenaciously devoid of any apparent sense, the format overall, nowrevealing his previously hidden authorship, appears to be derived from atraditional esoteric scheme unquestionably familiar to Arensberg, namely magic squares.A number of these Carées magiques were recorded in the grimoires , the old French books of magic. A notable example was translated “from an oldand rare French manuscript in the Bibliothèque de l’Arsénal at Paris” into English, and first published in London in 1898 by a noted British occultist,S. L. MacGregor-Mathers. ( Moffitt )

---even though easy enoughto document, this is a significant point scarcely, if at all, mentioned in thefew studies that focus on the obviously crucial Duchamp-Arensberg con-nection. What follows accordingly provides a particularly useful insightinto a previously unconsidered aspect of Duchamp’s unique conjoining of eroticism and contemporary scientific references, both being factors com-monly acknowledged in current scholarship as having propelled the diverseprojects surrounding the complex effort leading to the Large Glass .More to the specific point, we can actually document what Arensberghimself thought, and had to say in print, about the scientific experimen-tation supposedly propelling alchemical eroticism---Read More: image:

The typically ponderous title of this esoteric publication is The Book of the Sacred Magic of Abra-Merlin, the Mage asDelivered by Abraham the Jew Unto His Son Lamech. A Grimoire of the Fifteenth Century.Arensberg probably had access to this publication, or at least to The inscribed plates of the Duchamp-Arensberg cryptographic effort,evidently “a Magical work of much importance from the Occult standpoint,”have sixty squares below and seventy-five above. According to MacGregor-Mathers, the granddaddy of all such “Qabalistic Squares of Letters” is the“Key of Solomon,” and this arcanum is found “inscribed within a doublecircle”; in this case, the hidden message corresponds to Psalm 77:8 in theBible. Nevertheless, the prototypical occultist magic square transforms thetext; as was explained by MacGregor-Mathers,…

…In the Hebrew, this versicle consists of exactly twenty-five letters, thenumber of the letters of the square. It will be at once noticed that boththis form and that given by Abraham the Jew [a legendary Alchemist]are perfect examples of double acrostics, that is, that they read in everydirection, whether horizontal or perpendicular, whether backwards orforwards. . . . It is also to be observed, that while many of the SymbolicSquares of Letters of the Third Book present the nature of the double Acrostic, there are also many which do not, and in the case of a greatnumber the letters do not fill up the square entirely, but are arrangedsomewhat in the form of a gnomon. Others again leave the center part of the square blank.( Moffitt )

---After 1923, when the Large Glass project and the ideas specificallymotivating its laborious execution had lost their creative fire, the rest of Duchamp’s long career—from the mid-1920s until his death in 1968—provesto be a long, drawn-out period of what may be called the diminishing returnsof the post- Large Glass era. For the rest of his life, there was apparently tobe only one notable exception to the pattern, the terminal and monumen-tally scaled work called Étant donnés . . . (1946–1968.... fundamentally Duchamp’s final grand oeuvre was nothing but a reprise of the essentially hermetic content of the LargeGlass . ... evidently Duchampwas commonly, and fully, committed to increasingly esoteric subject mattersince 1910—long before he met either the Arensbergs or Miss Dreier. As we may now guess, mutual commitment to that already established esotericcontent was a major factor leading to those spontaneous acts of patronage byMarcel’s sensitive American patrons. Sometimes, kindred spirits do meet. Read More: image:

As we may now observe besides appearing to have the composition of a grimoire -derived, “symbolic square of letters,” Duchamp’s À bruit secret —evidently standing for what MacGregor-Mathers calls “things carefully hid-den and concealed”—is bilingual. The Arensberg group, which supported Duchamp in a very tangible way, and whowere dedicated to the interpretation of indecipherable textual esoterica, insteadpresented a much more secretive or literally occult face. As now appearslikely, equally Arensberg and Dreier meant to impose essentially timeless occult systems upon seemingly straightforward modernist materials and per-ceptions. It is most likely that Duchamp actively participated, even colluded,in these overtly esoteric schemes. Read More:

Kuspit:Kleinschmidt writes: "Duchamp's influence on artists in our time is well known and extends beyond the confines of this article. But there is the amusing story Sidney Janis told me about Duchamp as the most radical Dadaist of all. He had graciously consented to help design the announcement for the 1954 Dada retrospective at the Janis Gallery. When Sidney Janis showed Duchamp the final proofs of the carefully folded sheet with every artist's name in the proper place, Duchamp approved of the printing, said he liked it very much. He then took one copy, proceeded to crumple it completely in his hands and said to Janis: 'This is the way you ought to mail them'." I think this behavior symbolizes Duchamp's destructive attitude. Art history may call it a Dadaist gesture, but human beings recognize it as contempt. It epitomizes Duchamp's malevolence -- his pathological negativism. (I am using "negativism" in the sense that Anna Freud did in her article analyzing it. Otto Fenichel adds that in negativism "resentment against the external world finds open expression.") Read More:



Once Nature has been transcended, then, says Steiner (just as did Kandinsky!),“for the first time, large numbers of people will feel spiritual life to be a vital necessity, when [through Art] spiritual life and practical life are finally brought into direct connection with each other. Because [only] Spiritual-OccultScience [ die geheime Wissenschaft , or ‘Secret Science’] is able to throw lighton the nature of matter, so will Art, which is born of Spiritual-Occult Sci-ence, attain to the power of giving direct form to every chair, every table, toevery man-created object.”

Kuspit:Woman is perhaps the most conspicuous target of his destructive negativism. It is subliminally evident in Nude Descending the Staircase and Bride Stripped Bare by Her Bachelors, Even, and viciously refined in L.H.O.O.Q and the Etant Donnés. In all these works she is a victim, mocked and ruined. (It is worth noting that Mark Polizzotti, in his biography of Andre Breton, describes the Dadaists as "joyful terrorists" Read More: image:


It is significant that Arensberg and Dreier, both of whom were knowl-edgeable students of and ardent subscribers to the Esoteric Tradition, were the sole financial and moral mainstays of the art of Marcel Duchamp duringhis first American period. This period is certainly the most important—andcryptic—phase of Duchamp’s entire career. A perhaps inescapable conclusion is that the content of Duchamp’s art at this time must have reflected the Occultist interests of his patrons. And why not assume this symbiotic rela-tionship? If we were, instead, dealing with the case of a standard Renaissanceartist, for instance Albrecht Dürer, rather than a modernist paragon of mental purism, Marcel Duchamp, then the tangible effect upon his art-works of the wishes of his munificent patrons would be taken for granted.But in Duchamp studies, alas, the authorities generally reject the logical,easier explanations of the kind belonging to traditional kunstwissenschaftliche
publications. Read More:


Duchamp. Bride. ---Duchamp:The Bride is, at her base, a reservoir of love-essence/gasoline of love, or timid power. Distributed to an engine with weak cylinders, thistimid power is put into contact with the sparks of her constant life (a desire-magneto). Brightened and blossomed, this Virgin has arrived atthe concluding stage of her desire.Along with the sparks from her desire-magneto, the artificial sparks,besides producing an electrical disrobing, must also furnish explosionswithin the engine with weak cylinders.The engine with weak cylinders accordingly has two speeds. Thefirst phase sparks from her desire-magneto....--- Read More:

…The Real Thing is one example of how history, politics and art intersect in terms of the artist, gallery, audience and the media. Schechner’s artwork makes references to consumerism and media imagery and these are formally associated with the spread of modern corporations and the expansion of the spectacle of capital. Schechner’s work, although indirectly, also raises questions concerning the place of Israel in the political and economic New World Order, as well as drawing out some of the similarities between corporate advertising and Nazi propaganda. Many of his works involve complex and challenging messages and raise issues concerning the Holocaust, Nazi Germany as well as late-Capitalist society. Does Schechner’s work trivialize the murder of six million Jews as critics of Mirroring Evil have claimed? Or does it reinvigorate debates about an issue that has been analyzed and debated almost to saturation and which could be argued to have lost its capacity to shock and horrify?…

---"Bar Code to Concentration Camp Morph is a single work from a series of stills taken from the computer animation Taste of a Generation. As numbers morph into human faces and the mark of merchandise becomes the dress of affliction, the troubling association of commodification, concentration camps, and digital imaging emerges. The larger message speaks of the bar- coding of human life, the transformation of beings into numbers. But the upper part of the screen - the metamorphosis of numbers to faces - alludes in reverse to a specific condition of digital technology, which transforms images constituted in reality into bytes of information, rhyming with the death camps as it transforms life into a sequence of numbers". —Noam Milgrom-Elcott--- Read More:

…In many ways Schechner has reworked the Holocaust into a new set of interpretative paradigms and this re-signification relates to the crime of the Holocaust, though it enters into an unstable process of interpretation, re-contextualization and semiotic disorder.Read More:

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