Seven Turns:
Meditations on a Coffee Mill

In true quixotic fashion, much has been made of Marcel Duchamp’s small and seemingly unassuming painting, Coffee Mill, from 1911. Painted for his brother, the sculptor Raymond Duchamp–Villon as a wedding present to decorate his kitchen, the work is unmistakably Cubist, combining the various aspects and movements of the coffee grinding process within a single image. Duchamp later said his intention was to pictorially dismantle the grinder at a time when he had become interested in the working parts of machinery.  Coffee Mill anticipates the role of a chocolate grinder in the later painting, The Bride Stripped Bare by her Bachelors, Even also known as The Large Glass (1915–23). Coffee Mill introduces the idea of rotation that would become important to his practice. Duchamp himself stated that his fascination with rotation had links to masturbation: “The bachelor grinds his coffee himself”.

Seven Turns: Meditations on a Coffee Mill at &Model, delves even deeper into the mind and practice of Duchamp. It was recently discovered by scholar and curator Ulf Linde that Coffee Mill uses a mathematical ratio of 22.5 as a basis for its composition, as do later works, The Bride, (1912) and The Large Glass.  For Seven Turns, curators Keith Bowler and Peter Suchin presented seven artists with a piece of plywood board matching these dimensions and asked them to respond to it in ways that comment or play upon Duchamp’s Coffee Mill.

Coffee Mill is significant in that it marks a move into a system of measurements that underpin Duchamp’s later paintings. The acts of measuring and rotation are immediately evident in the first piece that strikes the viewer upon entering the gallery space. Simon Patterson’s striking window installation piece, Four Ground, consists of a Surveyor’s measure and theodolite (used for measuring horizontal and vertical angles) arranged on a tripod that is pointed in the direction of a row of photographs of cement mixers, mounted on the plywood board. The surveyor’s tools in particular evoke a sense of enquiry through objective measurement, tapping into the essence of Coffee Mill.  Keith Bowler’s light installation, Wand (2015), uses the plywood as a backboard for a cold cathode that beams out of a wooden box. A thought provoking and puzzling piece by Wolfgang Berkowski, Seven Turns, (No. 6) (2016), consists of a jacket hanging from a peg that has been mounted onto the board. One might wonder why a jacket is hanging there, or doubt that it is a work of art. Asking ‘why?’ is central to Berkowski’s practice.

The use of the plywood boards as a mount for installation pieces is in contrast to the other works in the show, which use it as a surface for painting, providing differing responses to Coffee Mill. Peter Suchin presents an interesting study of gesture and materiality by scribbling and smearing the surface of his painting, Cryptic Panel (2015), with coffee. The furious scrawl hints at the notion of text and sits in stark contrast to the panel below, a more methodical and intricate accumulation of dots. In Monument (2016), Julian Wakelin produces a fascinating conversation between figure and ground. Though at first appearing abstract, Monument hints at figuration – the forms of a coffee mill and a handle in motion almost being recognizable. Peter Fillingham’s Branding Prototype (2015-16), sees his piece of board divided equally into halves of glossy red and yellow paint. A collection of zip-up cotton pockets hanging below form an odd and incongruous tactile relationship with the painted panel above. Finally, James Rogers’ Grindermorph (2015), consists of three separate and strangely familiar etchings into blocks of acrylic paint, each machine like in their precision.

The traditional notions and confines of the gallery space have always been under scrutiny, and the digital age in particular is pushing the boundaries of what a gallery can be and how art can be viewed. &Model consistently provides rich, diverse and well curated exhibitions featuring the work of both emerging and well-established artists. The creaking floorboards and weathered paint of the stairwell create a homely rather than reverential atmosphere, allowing viewers to relax and absorb more challenging works. In Seven Turns, visitors are introduced to a diverse and playful range of responses to a seminal painting, which continues to inspire new interpretations.

Seven Turns continues at &Model until 5 March 2016. Photos by the author: Simon Patterson, Four Ground, 2016; Wolfgang Berkowski, Seven Turns (No.6), 2016; Julian Wakelin, Monument, 2016.

Paul Bramley is a painter, curator and art writer currently living in York. @bramley_paul