More about Nude Descending a Staircase (No. 2)

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Marcel Duchamp was quite the trickster.

He spent his career being provocative and was always looking for an opportunity to make a farce of the art world. Today, when we stumble upon a piece of art that is as ridiculous as a urinal or semen on satin, we're quick to excuse the crass nature of the image because it came from the mind of this infamous French man. Unfortunately for the more properly refined folks of the early 1900s, no one knew who he was yet. So when Nude Descending a Staircase (no. 2) made its debut at the 1913 Armory Show in New York, people were not prepared for what their virgin eyes were about to see. 

“A nude does not move! It reclines!” shrieked the aggrieved audience. Apparently the idea of a naked body visually moving towards the viewer was too much for our prudent spectators to handle. Having this figure approaching the viewer made the experience engaging and personal and therefore broke down the voyeuristic wall of pervy delight that was the traditional nude: a sexy babe lounging around for our viewing pleasure, not charging down the stairs!

Not only did Duchamp unnerve the audience with his futuristic idea of a nude, but he also perplexed onlookers with how abstract the nude was. The title told the viewer it was a nude, but the imagery told another story. The New York Times even called the painting, “an explosion in a shingles factory." It was a classic case of rejecting something simply because we do not understand it. Seems like some things in our culture just don’t change…

Nonetheless, as the years have rolled by the art world has become a much more lenient landscape, and this is largely due to those outlandish characters like Duchamp. Pieces like Nude Descending a Staircase (no. 2) push people from their complacent preconceived notions of what art is and allows us to progress. But don’t worry; we don't mind if you prefer to look at accurately rendered ta-tas.