Eve Babitz plays Marcel Duchamp – 1963
This photo was taken 50 years ago.
Eve Babitz was 20, Marcel Duchamp was 76. Between and behind them is The Bride Stripped Bare By Her Bachelors, Even (1915-1923), part of the 1963 Duchamp retrospective at the Pasadena Museum of Art. The photographer was Julian Wasser, with the complicity of the show curator Walter Hopps, with whom Babitz was having an affair. She went on to design record covers and write memoirs of the LA cultural scene.
The photograph is the most important part of the show. It might have been even better perhaps, less literal and more playful, if, say, their feet touched under the table. But as it is, the photo feels uncomfortably staged.
Although she was intended as a provocative sex object, the voluptuous Eve is the most authentic presence in the image, transcending the all-too literal allusion to the art work in the background — whose title is an intentional obfuscation to begin with, and even Duchamp’s seriousness at chess.
Don’t get me wrong, I love and respect Marcel Duchamp as the Copernicus of modern art, and I hope to pose with a young nude woman when I’m 76. But the truth of this image is first and foremost a photographic nude, accompanied by an intellectual artist who likes to pay chess.
Babitz was reportedly relieved that her face did not appear in 1963. Above is a less well known photo, where we do see her face. This is later on the game, and towards the end of the camera roll. The black Queen appears to be off the board in the foreground. It seems that Duchamp, a consummate, lifelong chess player, is mercilessly beating his young nude opponent.
Take your clothes off and then get beaten by a chess master artist. And you will become part of art history.
And you will demonstrate that the nude trumps everything else around you.