Saturday, June 2, 2012

Something Else Press: Duchamp's Coeurs Volants

One of the rarest and most valuable editions published by the Something Else Press is the 1968 reprint of Marcel Duchamp's Coeurs Volants (Flying Hearts). The original, Duchamp's first optical piece, was made in 1936 and was used as the cover of Cahiers d'Art, a French artistic and literary magazine that published monthly from 1926 to 1960. The heart-within-a-heart-within-a-heart motif is printed with a vibrant blue and red, slightly askew, in a way that produces the illusion that the heart is pulsating. Various other versions were created, with The Something Else Press edition being the final (Duchamp died later that year).

Initially husband and wife artists/publishers Dick Higgins and Alison Knowles simply wanted the rights to reproduce the image for the cover of the US version of Emmett Williams' epic concrete poem Sweethearts. But after an introduction to the artist came through association with either Daniel Spoerri, Richard Hamilton or John Cage (Knowles’ own accounts vary), it eventually led to the decision that the press would also create a new silkscreen version of the work.

For the optical illusion to function, the registration had to be very precise, which was difficult for Knowles, who single-handedly produced the work. There were also issues with cracked paint from over-inking. Of the 100 attempts she screenprinted, most were deemed unusable and were discarded. The exact number of copies salvaged is difficult to ascertain: Knowles is quoted as saying that 24 were suitably executed, Peter Frank (in his well-researched Something Else Press bibliography) cites 22 and the work is often listed as being an "alphabet edition", which presumably means there were 26.

Richard Hamilton was reportedly sent a copy, as thanks for the introduction, the artists’ twin daughters and Jessica and Hannah Higgins both have copies, as does gallerist Emily Harvey and publisher Wolfgang Feelisch (Vice-Versand editions). The others sold very quickly “to galleries” for $125 each. A little more than a month ago a copy was auctioned at Phillips de Pury & Co., with an estimated value of between $18,000 and $24,000. The print sold for $67, 300.

Below is a 1967 image of Knowles visiting the Tenth Street apartment of Marcel and Teeny Duchamp, to select from colours samples for the reprint. After a miscommunication, Duchamp jokingly signs one of the swatches in pencil, creating perhaps his final readymade.

Knowles recounts the story on video, here.

Marcel Duchamp
Coeurs Volants (Fluttering Hearts)
New York City, USA: The Something Else Press, 1968
60 x 45.1 cm
Screenprint in colors, on wove paper.
Signed and dated edition.

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