From the Original Readymades to Today’s Found Objects
Marcel Duchamp coined the term “readymade” to describe the works of art made from manufactured objects he created in the early twentieth century. Some of these early works consisted of Bicycle Wheel (1913), a wooden stool with a wheel mounted on it, In Advance of the Broken Arm (1915), in which he inscribed this title on a snow shovel. His most famous piece was Fountain (1917), a urinal signed by the artist with the name “R. Mutt” and displayed on its back. It was controversial at the time, but by 2004 it was voted the most influential artwork of the 20th century. The revolutionary significance of the readymade, which was taken up by other artists and whose legacy is still seen today, was explained best by Duchamp himself in a May 1917 magazine article: “Whether Mr Mutt with his own hands made the fountain or not has no importance. He CHOSE it. He took an ordinary article of life, and placed it so that its useful significance disappeared under the new title and point of view - created a new thought for that object.” It is the choosing of an object, the shift from useful object to an objectively viewed object, and the endowment of an artistic title to the object that gives it new meaning. This idea led to the concept of art as being defined by the artist’s intentions.
The legacy of this artistic revolution is seen in Pop Art , Assemblage, Installtion art, and conceptual art. One need only think of Jeff Koons’ vacuum cleaners or Tracy Emin’s “My Bed” installation to understand how Duchamp’s challenge has prompted contemporary artists to challenge the boundaries of what is and isn’t art, and what role objects play in our lives.
Indeed, beyond the limits of formal contemporary art, a cult of found objects has sprung up and its following is nurtured by the Internet, where found objects and readymades can be shared with a wide community of fascinated viewers. Flickr groups like Found Photos , and books like Found Lives , are all examples of our voyeuristic obsession with the photos and objects discarded in massive quantities.
Artists who take up these objects and turn them into readymades continue in the tradition of Duchamp and continue to fascinate and surprise.
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