Western Roundtable on Modern Art

San Francisco, Art Association, 1949

Portrait multiple de Marcel Duchamp (Five-Way Portrait of Marcel Duchamp) / Unidentified photographer / Gelatin silver print, 1917 / Private collection, courtesy of Francis M. Naumann Fine Art

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Organized by Douglas MacAgy, then director of the California School of Fine Arts (which was renamed the San Francisco Art Institute in 1961), the Western Round Table on Modern Art took place in San Francisco in April 1949. Among the participants were Kenneth Burke, Marcel Duchamp, Arnold Schoenberg, and Frank Lloyd Wright. The original recording of the three-day round table, together with a transcript edited by MacAgy, is permanently housed in the San Francisco Art Institute archive.



Duchamp on how art can never be defined Introduces concept of “the aesthetic echo” as a way to conceptualize the relationship between the work and the spectator.


Dialogue between Marcel Duchamp and architect Frank Lloyd Wright
Moderator mentions specifically Nude Descending a Staircase, No. 1
and a work by Pablo Picasso.


Duchamp on “isms” (Surrealism, Futurism, etc. – the many artistic movements of the 20th century). He discusses his dislike of “retinal art” and issue of artistic intention. René Magritte and Piet Mondrian are mentioned as examples.


Frank Lloyd Wright comments on the Nude Descending a Staircase, No. 1. Duchamp discusses the effects of time and history on a work of art.


Duchamp explores "aesthetic echo" and introduces concept of “aesthetic shock.” He continues with discussion of the spectator, and the role of museum and the public.