Found Objects by Marcel Duchamp.

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Marcel Duchamp's objets trouvés


What Are Readymades? Definition & Characteristics
Famous Readymades
A Challenge to Traditional Art
Art Appreciation Resources


LHOOQ (1919) By Marcel Duchamp
(Replica in the Musee National d'Art
Moderne, Paris)

Fountain (1917) By Marcel Duchamp
(Replica, Tate Collection, London)


What Are Readymades? Definition & Characteristics

In modern art, the term "readymades" describes a category of "found objects", or "objets trouvés", associated with the French Dada artist Marcel Duchamp (1887-1968), primarily from the period 1913 to 1921. A type of Junk art, "readymades" were ordinary, commonplace objects - mostly manufactured items - selected by Duchamp as an antidote to what he called "retinal art" (art that was only visual). By simply selecting the object, and presenting it out of its usual context, but with little or no modification, the artist caused the object to become art. In fact, as far as Duchamp was concerned, all he needed to do was call something "art" and it became art - a form of minimalism explored later by the experimental artist Yves Klein (1928-62), who dominated Parisian conceptual art during the late 50s.

Andre Breton, the chief theorist of Surrealism, defined "readymades" as: "manufactured objects raised to the dignity of works of art through the choice of the artist." Duchamp stressed that - unlike "objets trouvés" which are individual items chosen for their aesthetic or creative attributes - a "readymade" is one - any one - of a set of mass-produced items which are largely indistinguishable from each other. It is not therefore the object's individual qualities that make it a piece of art, but the artist's decision to call it art. He himself should be aesthetically indifferent to the object: indeed, he may even employ methods of chance to make his decision.



Famous Readymades

Duchamp made a total of about twenty readymades, in his lifetime. Most of the early ones were then lost or discarded, leading him to commission a number of replicas. They have been divided into several categories, including "pure readymades", "assisted readymades", "corrected readymades", "rectified readymades", and "reciprocal readymades". "Pure readymades" are wholly unmodified objects (see below: Bottle Rack, 1914); "assisted readymades" are those in which the artist intervenes by (say) combining two objects (see: Bicycle Wheel, 1913); "assisted readymades" are those where the artist adds something extra to the object (see: L.H.O.O.Q. 1919). Some critics consider that only unmodified manufactured objects can be considered genuine "readymades".

Duchamp's most famous readymades include:

Bicycle Wheel (1913) Replica in Musee National d'Art Moderne, Paris
Wheel from a bicycle mounted on a wooden stool.

Bottle Rack (1914) Replica in Philadelphia Museum of Art
Galvanized iron bottle drying rack.

In Advance of the Broken Arm (1915) Replica, Moderna Museet Stockholm
Snow shovel inscribed with its title, and the words "from Marcel Duchamp 1915".

Fountain (1917) Replica in Musee National d'Art Moderne, Paris
A porcelain urinal, signed "R. Mutt 1917", allegedly "found" not by Duchamp but by his friend, Baroness Elsa von Freytag-Loringhoven.

50 cc of Paris Air (1919) Replica in Philadelphia Museum of Art
A glass ampoule containing about 125 cc of air from Paris.

L.H.O.O.Q. (1919) Replica in Musee National d'Art Moderne, Paris
Postcard reproduction of Mona Lisa by Leonardo da Vinci with added moustache and goatee beard. The title derives from the obscene French phrase "she's got a hot ass".

Why Not Sneeze, Rose Selavy? (1921) Philadelphia Museum of Art
152 Marble cubes (shaped like sugar cubes), with a thermometer and cuttle bone in a small bird cage.

A Challenge to Traditional Art

The "ready-made" was the result of an aesthetically provocative act, one which effectively denied the importance of taste and, at the same time, questioned the meaning of art itself.

It denied the importance of taste because the artist called an object "art" while remaining indifferent to its aesthetic characteristics; it questioned the meaning of art because it accepted ordinary, commonplace things as works of art and sought to undermine the uniqueness of the art object - something which ran counter to four centuries of Renaissance-dominated teaching. By submitting his "readymades" to art juries, for inclusion in art exhibitions open to the public, Duchamp posed a direct challenge to conventional notions of what is, and what is not, art.

Please Note: according to research published by the art historian Rhonda Roland Shearer - some "readymades" may have been deliberately fabricated by Duchamp.

Duchamp's avant-garde art, with its threat to the established order, inspired generations of later artists - notably those in the Neo-Dada and Pop Art movements, who created art out of instantly recognizable mass-produced objects from popular culture, including Ballantine Ale Cans, Campbell's soup tins, Brillo Boxes, lipsticks and hamburgers. See, for instance, Two Beer Cans (1960-4, Kunstsammlung Basel) by Jasper Johns (b.1930); Campbells Soup Can (1962, Leo Castelli Gallery, New York) by Andy Warhol (1928-87); Lipsticks in Piccadilly Circus (1966, Tate Collection, London) and Apple Core (1992, Israel Museum, Jerusalem) by Claes Oldenburg (b.1929).

The intellectual emphasis of Duchamp-style "readymades" also had an impact on postmodernist art of the late 1960s, 70s and 80s, notably the Arte Povera movement in Italy and Nouveau Realism in France, as well as conceptual art - a new artform based on the belief that the artist's idea was more important than the final artwork. In sulpture, "readymades" also inspired the work of Marcel Broodthaers (1924-76), Bill Woodrow (b.1948), Tony Cragg (b.1949), and Clive Barker (b.1952): see, for instance: White Cabinet and White Table (1965, MOMA, New York) by Broodthaers; and Van Gogh's Chair (1966, Private Collection) by Clive Barker. Assemblage art also borrowed heavily from Duchamp's "readymade" concept: see, for instance, Home Sweet Home (1960, Musee National d'Art Moderne, Paris) and Accumulation of Sliced Teapots (1964, Walker Art Center, Minneapolis), both by Arman (1928-2005).

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