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Give Duchamp His Due

Jeffrey Lott’s “A Survey in Progress” touches upon many issues that cannot adequately be addressed in a letter to the editor. However, as the social and historical biases of the history of art are being called into question, new ones seem to be sneaking in through the back door. The most glaring of these is that Andy Warhol could be considered the greatest artist of the 20th century.

Without questioning the brilliance of Warhol’s work, according to what criteria does he deserve this distinction? Warhol’s work—and that of many “radical” figures in 20th-century art on both sides of the Atlantic—would be unthinkable without the influence of Marcel Duchamp, who lived a good deal of his life in New York City. It so happens that the Philadelphia Art Museum has the largest collection of Duchamp’s works in the world. Please check it out and correct this oversight.

Jean-Marie Clarke ’74
Staufen, Germany

Jeffrey Lott replies: My article stated that Warhol and his fellow pop and conceptual artists “did not reference established art history” and “called into question” the very definition of art. Duchamp, of course, did exactly this with his bicycle handlebars, urinal, and his Large Glass, which can be seen in Philadelphia. I have spoken with art historians who think Warhol was the greatest of his century (eclipsing not only Duchamp but Picasso), but it is interesting to speculate whether his Brillo boxes could have been made without knowledge of Duchamp.

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