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Duchamp, Man Ray, Picabia at Tate Modern

An exhibition charting the friendship of three early 20th-century artists has opened at Tate Modern prior to its showing in Barcelona.

Man Ray: The Rope Dancer Accompanies Herself with
Man Ray: The Rope Dancer Accompanies Herself with Her Shadows; 1916; The Musem of Modern Art, New York © ADAGP, Paris and DACS, London 2008

Marcel Duchamp, Man Ray and Francis Picabia, now recognised as pioneers of modern art, were all born in the 19th century and remained friends for almost forty years. The youngest, Man Ray, lived until 1976.

It might be tempting to dismiss this show with its reconstructions of lost artworks as another pile of jumble. A replica lampshade replaces Man Ray's homemade version thrown out by his janitor. Nearby is the famous urinal exhibited in 1917. These may or may not all be originals but they take us to an era when such art really was new and daring in its attempt to lampoon.

The brave artists could also paint. Man Ray may be known for his photography but this exhibition shows his versatility. He manages to make his Ava Gardner stained glass portrait fun whilst being also traditional as required by the patron. Picabia's Femmes au Bull-Dog could be an amusing Playboy send-up but for the early date.

The earliest of the famous paintings is Duchamp's much imitated Nude Descending a Staircase exhibited in 1912 in New York after being rejected in Paris. The artists' bond is highlighted surviving joint works by Duchamp and Man Ray and one by Duchamp and Picabia.

The show opens with two mirrors. One is signed by Duchamp who said: "I am signing ready made future portraits." It is a copy of Man Ray's made twenty years earlier but then he used the glass found in fair grounds which slightly distorts the image. The latter frame is maybe more in the spirit modernism.

This is a large 13-room exhibition with more than 350 works and a cinema showing several short films.

Both had fun to the end. May Ray added a cigar to Leonardo's self-portrait in honour of Duchamp's smoking and his habit of adding a beard to a Mona Lisa reproductions on tea towels.

Exhibition souvenirs in the shop include a hanger stamped 'Obstruction'. The Obstruction installation is made of wooden coat hangers but the 3.50 souvenir hanger appears to lack the crucial hole made by Man Ray in 1920 to achieve the clever balance.

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