Readymade & Found Objects

An ordinary object elevated to the status of artwork by the mere choice of an artist

Introduction:

Have you ever found yourself walking through a gallery and been confronted by a shoe? An ashtray? Or some other random object seemingly plucked out of everyday life and placed in the middle of a large white room? Are you left wondering how and why we are calling this art these days? We know it seems strange, but let us explain the revolutionary readymade.

History:

French-American artist Marcel Duchamp first introduced the concept to the art scene in 1913, with an attempt to reject what he called ‘retinal art’ - art for solely visual purposes. He adopted the American term ‘readymade’, which was commonly used to describe objects that were manufactured rather than handmade, to designate art that is ‘an ordinary object elevated to the dignity of a work of art by the mere choice of an artist’. Essentially, he decided to take a random object from his everyday life and declare that it was art. This has since had a major impact on the development of Modern Art: some people even consider Duchamp’s invention the birth of Modern Art, and the artist the father of the entire umbrella movement.

Famous Examples:

Duchamp’s most famous readymade was Fountain, a urinal he submitted to the 1917 exhibition of the Society of Independent Artists in New York, which he placed upside down on a plinth and signed with a pseudonym ‘R. Mutt’. The piece was rejected by the committee on the basis of obscenity, against the rules that anything could be submitted. Duchamp had the work photographed by the esteemed photographer and gallery owner Alfred Stieglitz, and the image was published in Blind Man with an article defending freedom of expression in the arts.

Contemporary context:

Although the original work was unfortunately destroyed, there exists replicas made by Duchamp in the 50s and 60s. More importantly, the legacy of this groundbreaking artistic act has influenced artists throughout the 20th and 21st centuries, and led to the development of many important art movements including Found Objects (from the French term objets trouvés, which differ from readymades as they are objects that are found in everyday life but manipulated or added to by the artist), Assemblage (the putting together of different objects), and Conceptual Art (when the idea is more important than the material). Many famous artists including Joseph Beuys, Jake and Dinos Chapman, Jim Dine, Tracey Emin, Damian Hirst, Jasper Johns Sarah Lucas, Joseph Kosuth and Ai Weiwei have built upon this ground-breaking concept and emerging artists continue to employ Duchamp’s radical change in artistic ideas today.

Understandably it’s not for everyone, and it might not be first choice for your living room mantelpiece. However, without doubt, it is a concept which has challenged traditional practices and is a new and constantly evolving art form.

Check out some iconic examples:

Marcel Duchamp - Fountain 1917, replica 1964

Marcel Duchamp - Fountain 1917, replica 1964
Porcelain - Approximately 360 x 480 x 610 mm
In the collection of Tate, UK

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Tracey Emin - My Bed, 1998
Box frame, mattress, linens, pillows and various objects - Overall display dimensions variable
On loan in the collection of the Tate, UK from The Duerchkeim Collection

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Yuken Teruya - Green Economy Group 2, 2014
Euro notes - 25 x 16 cm; 9.8 x 6.3 in
Pippy Houldsworth Gallery.

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Tom Pfannerstill - Guinness - 2012
Acrylic on wood - 10″ x 10″ (25.4 x 25.4 cm)
Jonathan Novak Contemporary Art

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Thomas Shannon - Relativity Clock, 2012
Wall Clock (steel, glass, aluminium, plastic) - Ed. of 10 + 5AP
de Sarthe Gallery

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