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Customer Review

7 of 7 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars I've read most of the books on MD and this one really helps!, March 19, 1997
By A Customer
This review is from: Duchamp: A Biography (Hardcover)
It's probably best for beginners to read about MD's art instead of his life. So for that try one of the other titles. But if you already HAVE read those, as I have, then this book is indispensable because it gives the information behind the information.

Alot of it could be considered gossip but when a guy's entire oeurve is about humor and eroticism, why not read the stories behind the jokes and the love affairs that inspired the work? When a person is as indifferent as MD, why not understand where that attitude came from and which of his many love affairs was able to cut through the detachment?

This book paints a real vivid portrait of MD the person as opposed to the comic book charcter you've all been instructed to adore. The bad news is Duchamp is a bit opaque, even here, so the legend lives on. There are some things we'll never know about him. And some things that I wouldn't have minded if he had elaborated EVEN MORE on. (For instance- we finally get the details behind MD's first bizarre marriage and we are informed that Man Ray shot a film of the wedding but there is no explanation or follow through on THAT. Which sent me scurrying through the citations. Tompkins could have been a bit more scholarly about those.)(Maybe he should write another book about how he wrote this one. In the world of Duchampiana that wouldn't be unreasonable.) But the good news is that all the stories available are compiled in one easy-to-curl-up-with biography that reveals the real history of 20th Century Art in a straightforward manner. No more jumping from book to book to find out who this one or that one is, who thinks what, which gossip is here, which is there. It's all collected HERE. With deep background. No more Buick-sized coffee table books or 70 pound upside-down tomes to wrestle with. It's a book. A biography. With a few pictures. With a story line you can dance to.

Occasionally Tompkins veers off into the same pontiferiffic BS he accuses Arturo Schwartz and Jack Burnham of. So I just ignore those parts. But what I like about this book is that, for the most part, his point of view is down-to-earth and reasonable. There doesn't seem to be a hidden agenda. The alchemy and supernatural deification is mentioned but only in the context of other writers (when he gives a useful run-down of them and what they have written about MD). He mostly focuses on the man and the people he met along the way. And he explains it all very well. I loved that. If I want to make leaps of faith I'll do it on my own, thank you.
He mentions damn near every work MD ever did but he doesn't dwell on that aspect of it. He just puts each piece in the context of a life. It made me want to pull out a Buick-sized coffee table monster and appreciate it. But it was not mandatory and therefore refreshing.

Tompkins obviously did alot of research for this book. He says he worked on it for decades. Bravo! I read it back to back twice. The second time I took notes.

If it's the information you are after, write to me and I'll send em to ya then you won't have to read it all. Because even though you CAN curl up with this one, there must be something better to curl up with.
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A Customer