Inscribed on a strip of metal glued across the approximate center of this work are the words of its title, suggesting that viewers look through the lens that Duchamp mounted between two panes of glass and haloed in concentric circles. The title of this work, which Duchamp said he “intended to sound like an oculist’s prescription,” tells the viewer exactly how to look at it. But peering through the convex lens embedded in the work’s glass “for almost an hour” would have a hallucinatory effect, the view being dwarfed, flipped, and otherwise distorted.
Meanwhile, the viewer who is patiently following the title’s instruction is put on display for anyone else walking by. Duchamp called To Be Looked At . . . his “small glass,” to distinguish it from his famous Large Glass of 1915–23. He made this work while living in Buenos Aires, Argentina, where he had fled earlier in 1918 to escape the oppressive atmosphere of the United States during World War I. When he shipped it back to New York, the glass cracked in transit, an effect that delighted the artist.
Photographed in the Museum of Modern Art in NYC.