From about 1909, Eilshemius developed a highly unusual artistic strategy that essentially embodied two prime elements: Firstly, he tried to paint as many pictures as possible in a given period of time without subsequently correcting them. At the same time, he started to display his pictures in richly
ornamented, painted frames. These frames are unusual inventions and have an exceptionally mysterious painterly quality that makes his works unmistakable and unique.
His painting, moreover, is light, poetic, inspired, subtle, romantic, spontaneous, timeless and respectful towards the depicted subjects. It is, as it were, enraptured, wondrous and topical, and it is produced amid an ascendant avant-garde that ignores it. Eilshemius’ pictures render visible the longing for authentic feeling, for the transfiguration of the commonplace, and for the charm of integrity. This is undoubtedly precisely what Duchamp intuitively grasped when he was so captivated by Eilshemius’ large-format painting Supplication at The First Annual Exhibition of the Society of Independent Artists at the Grand Central Palace in New York in 1917.
In my comprehensive publication Eilshemius: Peer of Poet-Painters (2015), I demonstrate how Duchamp’s enthusiasm for this outsider finds its expression in his own works. For example, the invention of “Rose Sélavy”— his female alter ego—reminds us directly of the passage in Eilshemius’ fictional The Devil’s Diary (1901), in which he describes how the devil (meaning himself, the artist) turns himself into a woman by self-hypnosis in order to see the world from the female point of view. The nymphs visible through a kind of peephole in Three Nudes (ca. 1909–1913) look ahead to Duchamp’s In the Manner of Delvaux (1942) while Duchamp’s The Green Ray (1947) bears a striking similarity to Eilshemius’ Boat through Opening (ca. 1909–13). And when Duchamp visited the artist at his home and workplace in 1920 in order to discuss his first solo exhibition at the Société Anonyme, he saw paintings lying around everywhere, covered in centimeters of dust.
Eilshemius had explicitly forbidden the cleaning woman to remove the dirt from the pictures. Only a short time after, Duchamp left his unfinished Large Glass (1915–23) on the floor of his studio in order to breed dust on it and six months later he had it photographed by Man Ray as Dust Breeding (1920). However, with his numerous depictions of nymphs at waterfalls, Eilshemius had the most direct influence on Duchamp’s last major work, the diorama Given: 1. The Waterfall, 2. The Illuminating Gas … (1946–66).
Without Duchamp’s advocacy, Valentine Dudensing, one of the most successful New York art dealers, would not have become aware of Eilshemius’ work, nor would New York’s most highly reputed art critic Henry McBride have become one of his staunchest supporters, nor would such celebrated big-time American collectors as Duncan Phillips have begun buying the painter’s works. This in turn encouraged the MET, the Whitney and the MoMA to purchase pictures from him. Eilshemius was all at once famous and in unsurpassed demand. In 1939 there were even three major solo exhibitions of his works at the same time in New York—in the Valentine Gallery, Kleemann Galleries and Boyer Galleries. In today’s terms, this would be as if Iwan Wirth, David Zwirner and Larry Gagosian were to each stage a solo exhibition of his works at the same time.
His naïve unnaïvity, concrete abstraction, outmoded foresight, ingenious imperfection, thoughtless thoughtfulness, unintended inventiveness, accidental conceptualism, knowledgeable cluelessness, dreaminess and tenderness or the spontaneity and speed of his works are perhaps precisely the main reason why Eilshemius has remained an artist for artists to the present day. He inspired Marcel Duchamp to some of his most important, memorable and finest works and concepts. George Gershwin (1898–1937) was one of his first collectors and Milton Avery (1885–1965) one of his earliest admirers, to be followed later by Louise Nevelson (1899–1988), Louise Bourgeois (1911–2010), Ed Ruscha (b. 1937), Jeff Koons (b. 1955), Ugo Rondinone (b. 1963), Caroline Bachmann (b. 1963), or Nicolas Party (b. 1980). In this sense, the exhibition presents a broad overview of Eilshemius’ paintings, while at the same time juxtaposing works by artists who worshipped and worship him in order to make visible how his soulful spirit continues to the present to influence artists in their work.
Stefan Banz is an artist, author, and curator. He was born in Sursee and grew up in Menznau, Switzerland. From 1982 to 1991 he studied art history, German literature and literary criticism at the University of Zurich. In 1989 he initiated and co-founded the first Kunsthalle Luzern and served as its artistic director until 1993. He was the artistic consultant to Iwan Wirth, and the curator of the Galerie Hauser & Wirth at its beginning from July 1994 to December 1997.
Since 1993 he has been working as a freelance artist. Solo exhibitions amongst others at Kunstmuseum Luzern; Migros Museum, Zurich; Württembergischer Kunstverein, Stuttgart; OK–Offenes Kulturhaus Ober.sterreich, Linz; MAMCO, Geneva; Museum Pasquart, Biel, Switzerland; Institut Mathildenh.he, Darmstadt; Museum Schloss Moyland, Bedburg-Hau; Nassauischer Kunstverein, Wiesbaden; Galerie Urs Meile, Beijing and Lucerne; and Ars Futura Gallery, Zurich.
In 2000 he received the Manor Art Prize, as well as the Recognition Award from the city of Lucerne. From 2004 to 2014 artistic collaborations with Caroline Bachmann. In 2005 he was the curator of the Swiss pavilion at the 51st Biennale in Venice. In 2009 he initiated the Association Kunsthalle Marcel Duchamp (www.akmd.ch), and in 2010 he organized the international event Marcel Duchamp and The Forestay Waterfall in Cully, Switzerland. Since then he is the artistic director of the KMD – Kunsthalle Marcel Duchamp | The Forestay Museum of Art, the world’s .smallest. museum. His comprehensive publication Eilshemius: Peer of Poet-Painters won the Peter C. Rollins Book Award in New Mexico and the Eric Hoffer Book Award in New Jersey, and was nominated for the Jan Michalski Prize for Literature in Switzerland, while his last three books were all on the shortlist for the Robert Motherwell Book Award.
As an author he has written about Marcel Duchamp, Louis Michel Eilshemius, Aldo Walker, Jeff Wall, Jacques Derrida, Hans Emmenegger, Joseph Beuys, Jules Verne, Fischli|Weiss, Friedrich Dürrenmatt, Friedrich Glauser, Diego Vel.zquez, Edouard Manet, Muhammad Ali, Bruce Nauman, and Frank Zappa. Selected publications: Serendipity, Zurich, 1990; Kunsthalle Luzern, Lucerne, 1993; Give me a Leonard Cohen Afterworld, Ostfildern, 1995; Platz der Luftbrücke (with Friedrich Kittler), Cologne, 1996 and Nürnberg 2011; i built this garden for us, Zurich, 1999; a shot away some flowers, Zurich, 2000; Komplexes System Kunst, Texte und Interviews, Münster et al., 2001; Hell, (Novel, German and English editions), Cologne, 2001; The Muhammad Ali’s, Nürnberg, 2002; Un Coeur simple, Zurich, 2003; SMS, Beijing, 2005; Laugh. I Nearly Died, Nuremberg, 2006; What Duchamp Abandoned for the Waterfall, Zurich, 2009 (with Caroline Bachmann); Marcel Duchamp and The Forestay Waterfall (ed.), Zurich, 2010; Das Wespennest ist eine Kathedrale: Ein Gespräch mit Jean-Christophe Ammann, Nürnberg, 2011; Marcel Duchamp: 1° la chute d’eau, Nürnberg, 2012; Aldo Walker: Logotyp. Mit Marcel Duchamp und William Copley im Hinterkopf, Nürnberg, 2012 (German version), 2016 (French version); La Broyeuse de chocolat. Kunsthalle Marcel Duchamp at Mathildenhöhe Darmstadt (co-edited with Caroline Bachmann and Ralf Beil), Nürnberg, 2013; Marcel Duchamp: Pharmacie, Nürnberg, 2013; Das Schweigen der Junggesellen, Nürnberg 2014 (with Caroline Bachmann); Jeff Wall: Mit dem Auge des Geistes / With the Eye of the Mind, Nuremberg, 2014 (German and English edition); Eilshemius: Peer of Poet-Painters, Zurich, 2015; Louis Michel Eilshemius und sein Einfluss auf Marcel Duchamp, Vienna, 2016; Rock Upon Another Rock, Essays on Marcel Duchamp, Jules Verne, Joseph Beuys, Max Bill, Fischli|Weiss, and Ai Weiwei., Vienna and Dijon, 2018; Louis Michel Eilshemius: Six Musical Moods (ed.), Vienna and Dijon, 2018 and Marcel Duchamp: Richard Mutt’s Fountain Vienna and Dijon, 2019.