The “Crisis” of Masculinity: Duchamp, War, and Nationalism
This study explores Marcel Duchamp’s notions of war and masculinity, first by dealing with Duchamp’s early machine drawings produced before and after the outbreak of the First World War and then by concentrating on his portraits produced during 1915 and 1919, a period when he was in exile. Focusing on Duchamp’s portraits as being disguised as a monk as well as on his assisted readymade <L.H.O.O.Q>(1919), the study looks at how Duchamp deliberately complicated masculine sexualities and gender distinctions.
While in exile, Duchamp, one of the best-known members of the New York Dada movement, created a number of portraits in which he appeared to be bald. His hairstyle with the mark of five stars in the back, according to Giovanni Zapperi, the author of “Marcel Duchamp’s Tonsure: Towards an Alternate Masculinity” (2007), points to the common practice of cutting the hair from the top of monks’ heads (tonsure) during the early part of the 20th century. Religious motifs can frequently be found in Duchamp’s other works,
yet, as I argue, transforming himself into an image of a celibate monk might have other implications related to his ideas of war and masculinity. Duchamp’s self-portrait as a monk reflects the artist’s desire to distinguish himself from war-mongering European men at the time of the First World War.
The purpose of this study, however, is not merely to contrast Duchamp’s “ambiguous” masculinity with the dominant forms of aggressive masculinity that coincided with the fanatical nationalism of the First World War. Contradictory interpretations of masculinity, as seen in war posters, psychoanalytic studies, literary descriptions of manhood on the warfront, and images of veterans will also be discussed to illustrate shifting perceptions of
masculinity that were already evolving in the 1910s.
The study of Duchamp’s years in New York and Buenos Aires enables us to underscore the continuation of his artistic endeavors throughout his exile period, including his search for open and unfixed artistic identities and masculinities. More importantly, the series of portraits he created during his exile, in their complication of ideas of proper masculinity, may be seen as paving a path toward “Rrose Selavy” his most notorious and important
project engaging issues of gender ambiguity, which he began in 1921 while collaborating with Man Ray.