Saturday, 14 September 2013

On Hidden Noise

Marcel Duchamp’s (1916) piece called With Hidden Noise is kept in the Arensburg collection near The Bride Stripped Bare By Her Bachelors, Even, at The Philadelphia Museum of Art. With Hidden Noise consists of a ball of twine secured with bolts between two plaques of brass. When he was putting it together, Duchamp invited his friend and collector Walter Arensberg to add a small object inside the twine. Nobody knows what it is. Clearly, the essence of With Hidden Noise is the hidden object.

The idea of hidden noise plays a role in my novel The Bride Stripped Bare By Her Bachelors, Even in various ways. There are always unknowns inside things and people, even inside ourselves. At one point my narrator, named Isaac (though he has another name too), discusses the value of Duchamp's piece:

“What dollar value can we put on the ball of faded boric twine known as With Hidden Noise? It is impossible to answer. Duchamp made the only copy of the piece for his friend Walter Arensburg. Arensburg donated it to the Philadelphia Museum of Art where it remains today. It has never been put on the market. In the normal sense of the word, the piece has no value at all.  Only market price determines the value of art. With Hidden Noise has never had a market. It is art that does not act like art.
    When Duchamp was asked if he knew how much Arensburg had paid for his fabulous painting Nude Descending a Staircase (which was $240, in case you are wondering), Duchamp replied “No, I wasn’t interested. I never knew the price.” He went on to add: “It’s the same for With Hidden Noise...what’s secret is the price!”
    It pleased him to be unable to say what anything was worth.
    If it went on the art market today, would With Hidden Noise be worth as much as one million dollars?
    Oh yes.
    Let’s be serious.
    Oh yes.
    I am definitely sure that With Hidden Noise is worth much more than a million dollars. I can be definitely sure because, if it went on the market today for just a million bucks, I would sell my house so I could buy it.”

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