Marcel Duchamp, Rrose Selavy, and Gender Performativity

By Deborah J. Johnson.

Published by The Arts Collection

Format Price
Article: Print $US10.00
Article: Electronic $US5.00

Rrose Selavy first appeared in New York in 1920 as the author of Duchamp's sculpture, "Fresh Widow." A so-called alter ego of Duchamp, Selavy has emerged from obscurity over the past decade primarily for what she tells us of Duchamp. As such, she can be seen as the more avant-garde of the two artists, the one who took aggressive emotional and artistic risks of which the urbane Duchamp was less capable. Most radical are a series of photographs taken by Man Ray in which she appeared as an artist in her own right, arguably the first Performance artist in a century dominated by Performance and pointedly, Performance by women. Selavy's presence can be linked to many of Duchamp's most important early works, including "Fountain" and the "Large Glass," but it is in these photographs that Selavy announced herself in a program that is staggeringly prescient and that will be queried in this article: who and what are Selavy, and does her performativity establish multivalent definitions of gender, its electivity, and ultimately, its unity that are key components of Duchamp's work and much Performance art of the 20th century?

Keywords: Rrose Selavy, Marcel Duchamp, Photography, Man Ray, Performance Art, Gender

International Journal of the Arts in Society, Volume 1, Issue 7, pp.191-200. Article: Print (Spiral Bound). Article: Electronic (PDF File; 2.662MB).

Dr. Deborah J. Johnson

Professor, Department of Art and Art History, Program in Women's Studies, Department of Black Studies, Providence College, Providence, Rhode Island, USA

Dr. Johnson is Professor of Art History, Women's Studies, and Black Studies at Providence College, and former Director of the Providence College Women's Studies Program. While Curator at the Museum of Art, Rhode Island School of Design, she published several catalogs in the areas of prints, drawings, and photography, two of which won national awards. As a modernist at Providence College, she has been nominated three times for Providence College's Outstanding Teacher Award and has continued to publish widely on 19th -21st century art and culture. In addition to her inclusion in the landmark publication, “Readings in 19th Century Art”(Janis Tomlinson, ed.), her most recent books include “Women Making Art, Women in the Visual, Literary, and Performing Arts Since 1960,” and “Seeing and Beyond: Essays on 18th-21st Century Art in Honor of Kermit S. Champa,” both published by Peter Lang International.

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