Fourteen Turns: Meditations on a Coffee Mill presents work by fourteen artists who have been asked to respond to a modest painting by Marcel Duchamp (1887-1968), the Coffee Mill of 1911 (oil and pencil on board, 33 x 12.7cm, Tate Gallery, London, also known as the Coffee Grinder). To this end the artists were supplied with a wooden support of exactly these dimensions and asked to use this, as well as aspects of the now extensive literature on Duchamp, as starting points for their contribution to the show.
The Coffee Mill was itself the result of an invitation by Duchamp’s brother Raymond Duchamp-Villon to donate, as a rather unorthodox wedding gift, a painting made to be mounted on a cupboard door located above the kitchen sink at his home in Paris. Despite its seemingly trivial subject matter Duchamp later attributed to the Coffee Mill considerable significance. In the collection of interviews given to Pierre Cabanne in the late 1960s he observed that he had, with the Coffee Mill, “opened a window onto something else” (Dialogues with Marcel Duchamp, Thames and Hudson, 1971, p. 31). Conventionally seen as an ambitious but recognisably Cubist composition, the Coffee Mill is enigmatically “assisted” by Duchamp’s mysterious remark, reframing it as one of the most important and far-reaching of his works.
Cabanne also questions Duchamp about two of his most respected pieces, The Bride (1912), and The Bride Stripped Bare by Her Bachelors, Even (the Large Glass) (1915-23): “How do you explain your evolution towards the system of measurements in [these works]?”, asks Cabanne, to which Duchamp replies “I explain it with The Coffee Grinder”(p. 37).
Also in the 1960s, Duchamp was invited by the scholar and curator Ulf Linde (1929-2013) to collaborate with him on a reconstruction of the Large Glass. The completed copy was signed by both Duchamp and Linde, and its construction partly documented in the volume published on the occasion of a major Duchamp show curated by Linde at the Royal Swedish Academy of Fine Arts, Stockholm, in 2011 (Jan Aman and Daniel Birnbaum (Eds.), De ou par Marcel Duchamp par Ulf Linde, Sternberg Press, 2013, English text). In the book, Linde presents the argument, supported by numerous drawings, diagrams and photographic overlays, that a hitherto unnoticed mathematical ratio of 22.5 had been used by Duchamp when composing the Coffee Mill, and that this relationship featured not only in The Bride and the Large Glass, but also as a determining aspect of the piece Duchamp worked on in secret between 1946 and 1966, and which now resides in the Philadelphia Museum of Art: Given: 1. The Waterfall, 2. The Illuminating Gas. Duchamp’s commitment to this sub rosa proportion of 22.5, alongside the also recurring numbers 1, 7 and 8, is rarely examined in the art historical literature, despite the artist telling Cabanne of the direct connection between the Coffee Mill and certain seminal works.
In the exhibition’s initial cast as Seven Turns: Meditations on a Coffee Mill (& Model, Leeds, February - March, 2016), the selection of seven artists was, following Duchamp’s infamous bachelor thematic, entirely male. Fourteen Turns enacts a different Duchampian trope, one in which male and female protagonists are deliberately, if unconditionally, juxtaposed. The original seven artists are included in the present show.
Fourteen Turns: Meditations on a Coffee Mill aims to “crack”, translate and playfully reconfigure Marcel Duchamp’s intriguing picture-puzzle of a tiny domestic machine in motion.