Fixed But Not Repaired
John Sloan used windows as symbols of the barriers between the artist and the world. He distances himself from threatening scenes by showing them as if seen though a window. He stands back from the world, behind a window or two, to make art.Then he stands back from his art as it becomes more world-like, as it becomes more an object and less an intent. Then art, like the world, is separated from the artist by windows, this time framed in a gallery. Separated in space by the window-like frame and glass, it says ‘look but don’t touch’ to both artist and world. And separated in time because once in a gallery ‘the’ work of art is over and it’s now ‘a’ work of art. Work once a verb becomes a noun.
Here’s some windows, less barriers, more bridges that let the artist into the world. Across Sloan’s alley there plays a variation on Edgar Degas’ genre picture ‘Interior’. In the theatrical original the woman is huddled in a defensive crouch, and the man is shown upright, assertive and aggressive. The woman is well lit, center stage and the man, in the wings, lurks in darkness. The woman is clearly the victim and therefore the picture is sometimes called ‘The Rape.’ But here/now the scene is reversed, the man’s the well-lit crouching one, and the woman’s upright in shadows. It’s still a threatening scene but the roles are not so obvious. Who’s threaten who? Did the man abuse the woman, or did he fail her?
‘The Large Glass’
The window in the foreground is in two parts just like Marcel Duchamp’s ‘The Bride Striped Bare by Her Bachelors, Even.’ He said it’s ‘finally unfinished’ in 1923, but he worked on it again, after 1926 when it was broken in transit. He fixed it –but did not repair it–between more glass. There is fixing but not repairing here too, in both cases a stoppage not a correction.
There are nine somewhat upright shapes in the lower pane of Duchamp’s work. They are the bachelors and critics refer to them as inept, calling their efforts futile, masturbatory and /or impotent. In the studio they are represented as brushes. But are the bachelor-brushes part of ‘the’ work of art? or are they part of ‘a’ work of art? Verb or noun? Is it a courtship (verb) where bachelors seek a bride or a marriage (noun)? Or is it, as in ‘Interior,’ undecided and neither, alternating with both?
In the Duchamp, the upper pane is the bride’s domain. There she’s part amorphous cloud and part inscrutable machine. In the studio window’s upper pane, similar to bachelors becoming brushes, a similar becoming ‘bride,’ is an amorphous whiff of smoke above Sloan’s inscrutable city. The meaning of glass, both in the Duchamp and this window is ambiguous; is it barrier or bridge?
‘Artist and Model’
The unfinished canvas in the studio mirrors the scene from the room across the alley. It’s what the man would see of the woman, another bridge, another barrier. As a bridge it connects them as artist and model, her body and his mind, art as verb. And as a barrier, it’s ‘look but don’t touch’ again, her mind and his body, art as noun. It’s still a threatening scene even stepped back from again as art in an art. Another glass, please.