The renowned art critic and art historian talks about her life and work.
Rail: Would that lead in any way to the way you felt about Duchamp when you were first exposed to his work? In fact you probably were the last person who interviewed him.
Ashton: I did interview him. But I was not interested in Duchamp as a visual artist because to this day I still believe that his great talent was in language. He was a verbal artist, not a visual artist. If you look at his early work, it was competent but it wasn’t outstanding by any means. And he must have sensed that because he went off it very soon. Who he was we don’t know, really. There are thousands of hypotheses about Marcel Duchamp, but there are little things about his history, which are quite interesting. He never had a job, he lived off women, and nobody disliked him. In other words he didn’t take a position, and he said the reason was indifference. And he was indifferent. The only political thing I ever heard him say in that interview was his bitter complaint about American income taxes. I was interested in him because there was such a strong turning here in New York in his direction. Artists like Jasper Johns were saying, “He was my hero,” and all of that. Ever since, there have been no less than two or three of my students who choose to write about Duchamp for their term paper. I’ve been teaching for nearly 40 years and every year he remains interesting. So the question of why he remains interesting is complicated and I’m sure if you ask six different people—
Image: Dore Ashton by Alice Neel, 1952 (Credit)