From Manuport to Readymade
At seventeen I was a very uneducated boy, avoiding the world of art. At that point I met Gianfranco Baruchello, an Italian artist living in Rome. From him, I learned the rudiments of art. When I met Gianfranco, I was completely devoid of reference points. I absorbed everything he said, everything I saw in his house. This is how I came across a work by Marcel Duchamp for the first time, or rather an object that looked like it came from an anonymous hardware store. In a corner of his living room was positioned a bottle rack. Actually, I didn't even know it was a bottle rack. It looked more like an abstract sculpture. I knew nothing of the existence of a Monsieur Duchamp. At the time, my mythological coordinates were dictated by many other characters: Mick Jagger, Eric Burdon, Ringo Starr, certainly not by a seasoned and staid old gentleman born in the nineteenth century.
That strange object left me dumbfounded. It reminded me of the skeleton of something, but I didn't understand what: a fossil of modern time, an alien object perhaps? I really liked science fiction. I did not know how to place Duchamp and did not dare to ask for explanations on the matter, since he was treated a bit like a relative, a familiar figure, a tutelary deity. I thought the bottle rack came from Gianfranco's hometown, a sort of relic of the peasant life of a landowning ancestor. But there were other traces arranged around the house that could help me to unravel the mystery: there was, exposed in plain sight on a shelf as if it were Lourdes water, a bottle containing smoke, certified and countersigned by Gianfranco and another guy unknown to me (for me at the time “smoking” was a very different thing). To reinforce the explosive power of that smoke, there was also the poster of an exhibition held at the gallery of Claude Givaudan (in boulevard Saint-Germain) on which was displayed the photo of an open hand holding a cigar from which a cloudy emission emerges; unquestionably, in my mind, atomic smoke.
Then, hung on the wall, there was an engraving with chess players and a set of discs called rotoreliefs. I liked these things a lot because they immediately reconnected to my little stoned world. They seemed to me something optical, psychedelic, hallucinated, striped. Like Wow! Flower power! They looked like the cover of an LP. They wouldn’t look out of place in the rounded package of Ogdens' Nut Gone Flake by Small Faces. I couldn’t keep all this stuff together, but the impression I got from it was that of finding myself in front of a difficult charade, a mixture of archaic elements and acid pop stimulations.
In short, however, I understood. I learned, I understood, I assimilated. I changed. Forever. I eventually realized that Duchamp was a stretch in the space-time continuum, a patch in the aesthetic certainties of our day, a schedule on which everyone can write what he wants. His art is a toolbox from which to extract the most suitable tool to use, to hurl against dogma. As artistic as it is political and existential.