Andrew Lambirth

Canter through Dada

<strong>Duchamp, Man Ray, Picarbia</strong><br /> Tate Modern, until 26 May <strong>Juan Muñoz</strong><br /> Tate Modern, until 27 April 

Duchamp, Man Ray, Picarbia
Tate Modern, until 26 May

Juan Muñoz
Tate Modern, until 27 April 

The recent Tate habit of serving up in threes major figures from art history is not to be encouraged. It almost worked in 2005 with Turner Whistler Monet, but as the old saying goes, ‘two’s company but three’s a crowd’, and one of the artists usually suffers. In the Degas, Sickert and Toulouse-Lautrec show (2005–6), it was Lautrec who suffered. In the current offering, it is Picabia, the least familiar of the three and the one needing most introduction to the public, thus warranting a better showing than he gets here, having to compete with his heavyweight mates. That said, it’s an enjoyable enough canter through Dada, though rather on the skimpy side. The show can’t decide whether it wants to tell the story of an art movement or of three buddies. As such, it tends to fall between two stools. (An appropriate metaphor for Duchamp at least, who not only used lavatories as art but also mounted a bicycle wheel on a stool.) The exhibition tries to cover too much and in the process gets spread rather thin. Art history lite is also not to be encouraged.

Early work is nearly always revealing. The first room introduces the friends via their portraits, and the joking starts at once with two mirrors exhibited as portraits, Duchamp’s signed (in mirror-writing, of course). The early work here includes Duchamp’s very painterly ‘House in a Wood’ (1907) and an awful ‘Adam and Eve’ by Picabia (prefiguring his later nudes), also a jigsaw-like landscape. Nothing much by Man Ray. He does, however, come into his own in Room 3, with a fascinating painting called ‘The Rope Dancer Accompanies Herself with Her Shadows’, which is structured like a Duchamp (though harsher) but with much stronger colour.

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