If you’re into art history, or tend to nerd out about controversial creators within the‘art’ realm, then you probably know who Marcel Duchamp is. But there’s a good chance you’ve passed over the name Rrose Selavy, in which case you need to write it down. Rrose Selavy was a pseudonym of the visual artist Marcel Duchamp. Duchamp a controversial artist, known for his role within the Dada art movement, was extremely good at breaking rules, which brings us back to Rrose Selavy, who became famed artist, Marcel Duchamp’s alter-ego with her own look, her own mind, even her own body of work. Sometimes artists create more than paintings and sculptures — they create people. They form whole other identities; personas.
Selavy first manifested in the 1920s, a period of time, one can imagine, during which people, or society rather, were not particularly accepting of cross-dressing, gender-bending visual artists. Think about it, the 19th amendment, granting women the right to vote, was finally ratified in August of 1920.
Now I’m not sure “having-balls” poses the best way to describe how brave one would have to be to pull such a contemporary leaning performance stunt like this, but it definitely took a lot of guts. We often recognize pop icons like Kurt Cobain and Lady Gaga for representing a “counter-culture” or “rebel” teen spirit, but if you really want survey an artist who threw up two middle fingers to the status quo and elitism within the often narrow realm of art, Marcel Duchamp-Rrose Selavy should be your new Idol.
While the nature of negotiating gender and challenging issues like identity are more than enough to peak our interests, it’s Duchamp’s outlook on art that really challenged dominating ideologies during that time. Duchamp was creating ‘ready-mades’; most famously Fountain, which was a urinal, turned on its side and signed.
Duchamp often articulated taste as falling into three categories: good, bad and indifferent. As you may be able to deduct Duchamp considered his art indifferent in relation to taste. Rather than choose a side of the art binary, Duchamp simply refused to play the game. He/she defied genres and ignored categories. Unlike so many artists throughout history who merely react against an established aesthetic or ideology, and creating works that are exclusively “beautiful” or exclusively “ugly,” he just remained indifferent to all of it. Duchamp didn’t re-write a rulebook he just threw all the existing ones in the garbage.