I dimly remember visiting the Queensland Art Gallery at Bowen Hills in the 1950s, but my strongest memory is from a little later. As high-school students in July 1968 Bev Parrish and I went to the gallery to see a Marcel Duchamp exhibition.

I think I already knew about Duchamp’s 1913 classic modernist paint­ing Nu descendant un escalier n° 2, with its references to Eadweard Muy­bridge’s sequence of photographs Woman walking downstairs. And I knew that Duchamp had caused a fracas when he tried to exhibit an ordinary porcelain urinal, with the title Fountain in New York in 1917. But that’s about all I knew about him.

I thought the exhibition at the art gallery was terrific. I don’t remember where the exhibits came from, and I don’t recall a catalog—I certainly didn’t buy one, though there could have been one available but beyond my budget. Many readymades were included. These were recent reproductions, produced in limited editions au­thor­ised by the artist. I have fond memories of these in particular:

  • Fountain—the porcelain urinal
  • Fresh widow—a model of a pair of French doors fitted with black curtains
  • 50cc of Paris air—a glass ampoule filled (we were told) with air from Paris
  • With hidden noise—a ball of string captured between brass plates, containing a small loose object (of undisclosed identity) which made a noise when the object was shaken (or so we were told)
  • Why not sneeze, Rose Sélavy—a little bird cage, containing marble blocks in the shape of sugar cubes—I think this was my favourite

These items were full of stories, jokes, multi-lingual puns, and cultural ref­er­ences—a marvelous delight for a schoolboy in the backwater that was Brisbane in the 1960s.

Marcel Duchamp, Fountain, 1917. SFMOMA

Marcel Duchamp, Fountain, 1917. SFMOMA

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