Street Photography: 210 West 14th Street


In a previous blog post, I described my experience revisiting West 14th Street, an area I frequented many years ago when I worked in the music industry.  Although the area has changed, I photographed a residential building — number 200 — that stood on West 14th for over one hundred years.

As I continued walking down the street that day, it wasn’t long before I again came to a dead stop to marvel at another red entranceway — number 210.  The door also featured a sculptural piece.  But this one was of greater interest.  Whereas the sculpture in the other building was an architectural trope, 210’s semi-circular one painted in bright yellow seemed custom made.

The man in the relief sculpture is wearing a loose garment and is holding some kind of an instrument. So my thought was that maybe the building was originally some kind of a shop or small factory and that the man was a generic representation of the work that was done inside.  But what kind of work would that be?  To me, it looks like he’s holding a soldering iron, except that there is no electrical wire connected to it and its unclear what it is that he is holding that is being soldered.

It was a nice surprise to find out that the apartment building was the residence of the famous French artist, Marcel Duchamp (1887−1968), a key figure in the avant-garde Dada movement that swept Europe in the early 1900s. He moved into the building’s top floor in 1942 and remained there until his death in 1968. Duchamp is probably best known for his radical sculpture, titled Fountain, which was a urinal layed on its back and placed on a pedestal.

Fountain by Marcel Duchamp. Photograph by Alfred Stieglitz. As if the piece was not baffling enough, Duchamp intentionally signed it as “R. Mutt.”

Differing accounts identify the building as having been constructed in either 1910 or during the 1840s.  But what of that mysterious piece above the door?  I came to learn that it’s called a tympanum and that the figure is not representational, but bears the likeness of another artist named Pompeo Luigi Coppini (1870-1957), who also lived in the building.

Coppini emigrated to the U.S. from his native Italy.  Not able to achieve recognition in New York, he moved to Texas where he consistently procured commissions to produce monuments commemorating George Washington, the Declaration of Independence, and many confederate figures.  His studio in San Antonio continues as the Coppini Academy of Fine Arts.

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Published by Xiomáro

Nationally exhibited artist, photographer, speaker, teacher, and curator. Author of "Weir Farm National Historic Site" (Arcadia Publishing).

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