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Kari Holt

Ironies of Desire and the Search for Autonomy in the Work of Marcel Duchamp and Andrea Fraser

       The often satirical gestures of Andrea Fraser and Marcel Duchamp are bound up with issues of the gendered body of the artist and the institution. The inclusion of both sexual desire and gender with irony serves to increase the already plural and mutable feminine and feminist topics of both artists. My thesis will examine how the discourse created by the actions of these two artists is necessarily perplexing in order to bypass the rigidity of gendered categories as well as the relation between institution and artist.

            For both Fraser and Duchamp, ‘Art’ and the institutions that display or produce it become the Other for which they orchestrate an often ironical desire. Each artist’s use of desire could be best defined as the need to interpret, easily linked to the workings of the analyst/analys and relationship. Amelia Jones points to this analogy, problematizing it by linking the relation to Lacan’s notion of transference, where both the analyst and analys can become meaningful subjects to one another. What Jones does not point out, though, is the irony utilized in most of Duchamp’s work that further complicates a definitive power structure. In both Duchamp’s and Fraser’s work, the use of irony (escaping an act of mere satire) fights for a slippery authorial ground in order to grant the work of art some semblance of autonomy.

            In dealing with the problems of autonomy, both artists acted as a created personage, pushing the previous slippery authorial identity further, as well as incorporating an integral vulnerability. A major theme of this research is devoted to this issue of vulnerability, specifically in sexual identity, and the truth or autonomy that may be gained by the artist dealing with this in an open-ended manner.

         Foucault writes about the power of confession according to sexual nature in The History of Sexuality. The truth gained does not come from the authorial nature of the person speaking, it “takes effect, not in the one who receives it, but in the one from whom it is wrested.” (62) Joining this idea with Lacan’s primacy of the ongoing mutations of the signifier, it seems to make sense that Duchamp and Fraser are producing the most clear and, at the same time, most complex identities as artists and as individuals. But is this slippery slope of identity and the inherent vulnerability working to gain autonomy for the work of these artists? This study aims to show that this does occur due to the irony and slippages threading through their masked and unmasked identities.



          Kari Holt received her BA from the University of Iowa in 2000. While at SAIC, she worked as a teaching assistant while cultivating a fascination in psychoanalysis and postfeminism.


Thesis Advisor: Michael Newman, Associate Professor; Art History, Theory, and Criticism

Thesis Reader: David Raskin, Assistant Professor; Art History, Theory, and Criticism

Second Reader: Maud Lavin, Associate Professor; Visual and Critical Studies; Art History, Theory, and Criticism



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