Thesis: Thinking of Glass Through Its Materiality: A Critical Examination of the Centrality of Glass in the Duchampian Legacy in Post-1915 Artistic Practice
Supervisor: Dr Johnathan Vickery and Professor Michael Hatt
BFA (New York University)
MA (University of Warwick)
Historically, the employment of glass as a material in Western European and North American artistic practice defines glass as a medium to be transmuted (substantially transformed). For this, artists have used an array of techniques – including glassblowing, core-forming, and hot sculpting. These techniques have served to conceal and disguise the intrinsic properties of glass (its fragility, rigidity, and transparency), principally for the purpose of producing a panoply of decorative and utilitarian glassware. My research uncovers how this treatment of glass suppresses its epistemological potential. My thesis argues that Marcel Duchamp's magnum opus, The Bride Stripped Bare by Her Bachelors, Even (1915-1923; also known as The Large Glass), represents what Michael Foucault identifies as a historical ‘rupture’ that severed the established conventions of glassmaking. By accepting transparent panes of glass with cracks propagating through their entire surface as the background, replacing the canvas of traditional easel and oil paintings, Duchamp foregrounds the intrinsic properties of the glass. Rather than continuing to treat glass as a mimetic material, Duchamp created an opening for a more complex and historical understanding of the materiality of glass itself — by treating glass as a material in its own right. In constructing this argument, my research will uncover a dimension of unexplored historical meaning in post-1915 (modern) art. Drawing on Foucault’s historical methodology (‘genealogy’) the thesis will expose the assumption that glass is only a material of utilitarian transmutation, and with it the institutional naivete of supposing glass is a self-evident medium or artistic ‘genre’ (standard for collections, and museums, of glass and glassmaking). My project will expose the operations of power and control over the classifications and display of glass-as-medium, and assert a suppressed dimension of the dominant narratives of artistic modernity. It calls for institutions to define glass in a critically nuanced fashion and to integrate glass into a more diverse discussion of the significance of post-1915s art.