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.