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Readymade and The Found Object Collage

Readymade and The Found Object

Started: 1910s
Readymade and The Found Object Timeline
"An ordinary object [could be] elevated to the dignity of a work of art by the mere choice of an artist"
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Marcel Duchamp Signature
"Art is everything that I say is art"
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Marcel Duchamp Signature
"Man can never expect to start from scratch; he must start from ready-made things, like even his own mother and father"
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Marcel Duchamp Signature
"Art is all a matter of personality"
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Marcel Duchamp Signature
"Guess how I made the bull's head? One day, in a pile of objects all jumbled up together, I found an old bicycle seat right next to a rusty set of handlebars. In a flash, they joined together in my head. The idea of the Bull's Head came to me before I had a chance to think. All I did was weld them together... [but] if you were only to see the bull's head and not the bicycle seat and handlebars that form it, the sculpture would lose some of its impact"
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Pablo Picasso Signature
"An original is a creation motivated by desire. Any reproduction of an original motivated by necessity. It is marvellous that we are the only species that creates gratuitous forms. To create is divine, to reproduce is human"
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Man Ray Signature
"I think we need to be guided by certain scientific principles and a conservation ethic as well. All of those things can come together to create a kind of relationship to the natural world that is productive and motivated by something other than profit. Profit can't be the only thing that motivates our society. Otherwise, we're really in trouble"
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Mark Dion
"Every time [My Bed is] installed it varies, it changes every single time"
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Tracey Emin Signature
"There should be something revelatory about art. It should be totally creative and open doors for new thoughts and experiences"
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Tracey Emin Signature

Summary of Readymade and The Found Object

Post-World War I culture was suffering a deep malaise with many artists disenfranchised with a society that could participate in such atrocities - and so, artists sought to break out of traditional or historical modes of creating art, they searched for new ways to innovate by delving into every aspect of their culture and compelling new thought. From within this surge of rebellious re-investigation rose the "readymade," a genre in which artists chose ordinary found objects from everyday life, and repositioned them as works of art so that their original significance disappeared in light of sparking new points of view. This jostled society's attitude towards what art was supposed to, or could potentially be, and injected a spontaneous, fresh context into a staid lexicon. It also paved the way for Conceptual Art, which became more about presenting ideas and the process of exploring them rather than focusing on a finished work of art.

Today, the readymade in art is a common motif, as regular an addition to artists' work as paint and other more traditional mediums. In contemporary society, artists continue their on-going investigation of regular objects, elevating them to art status as means of investigating society's relationship with the environment, consumerism, mass production, and our attachment to the physical world of our own manifestation.

Key Ideas & Accomplishments

  • The primary principles of the Dada readymade philosophy were to 1.) choose an object, a creative act in itself; 2.) cancel that object's familiar purpose by presenting it not in its usual functionary role but as a work of "art"; and 3.) add a title to it that potentially provoked a new thought or meaning.
  • Although readymades were undisguised presentations of usual objects as themselves, they were often manipulated, modified, or combined into assemblages to compel further disambiguity, further disassociating them from any preconceived meaning.
  • Under the readymade light, an artist became a "chooser" rather than "maker." This laid the groundwork for art as something that could exist to express concepts, process, and ideas rather than being confined to only the visual presentation.
  • The readymade became a way to challenge societal norms in that it broke down expectations, questioned originality, revealed familiar associations as meaningless mental constructs, and explored the commodification of beauty in general. Aesthetic, taste, and mass production were all put under a microscope, often with an attitude of irreverence or even humor.
  • Man's relationship with objects in general was taken into question through the readymade. What everyday objects do we take for granted? What new associations might be generated when said objects are removed from a position of complacency into one of fresh perspective? How might this disrupt regular thinking and trigger the unconscious?

Overview of Readymade and The Found Object

Readymade and The Found Object Photo

After the horrors of the First World War, many artists, writers, and intellectuals started to question every aspect of their culture that had allowed it to occur. Artists started to think about how technology, consumerism, art, and politics were all interrelated. Romanian-French poet Tristan Tzara noted, "The beginnings of Dada were not the beginnings of art, but of disgust." Artists and writers such as Tzara, Hugo Ball, Man Ray, Hannah Höch and Max Ernst decided that the only way to respond to these realizations was through irreverent and (potentially) nonsensical works. Dada artists used techniques such as collage, assemblage, and photomontage to form their works, creating new linguistic and visual languages that attempted to exist outside the rigid structures of contemporary society. The term Dada itself, though contested in origin, is said to come from its meaning of both 'Yes, yes' in Romanian and 'rocking horse' in French, demonstrating its transnational origins. The Cabaret Voltaire in Zürich Switzerland was an early hangout for Dada artists, but the movement soon spread to Paris and then to New York.

Key Artists

  • The French artist Marcel Duchamp was an instrumental figure in the avant-garde art worlds of Paris and New York. Moving through Dada, Surrealism, readymades, sculpture, and installation, his work involves conceptual play and an implicit attack on bourgeois art sensibilities.
  • Baroness Elsa von Freytag-Loringhoven, the provocateur and essential catalyst for New York Dada movement, upended notions of what was considered art.
  • Man Ray was an American artist in Paris whose photograms, objects, drawings, and other works played an important role in Dada, Surrealism, modern photography, and avant-garde art at large.
  • Picasso dominated European painting in the first half of the last century, and remains perhaps the century's most important, prolifically inventive, and versatile artist. Alongside Georges Braque, he pioneered Cubism. He also made significant contributions to Surrealist painting and media such as collage, welded sculpture, and ceramics.
  • Robert Rauschenberg, a key figure in early Pop art, admired the textural quality of Abstract Expressionism but scorned its emotional pathos. His famous "Combines" are part sculpture, part painting, and part installation.
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Do Not Miss

  • Dada was an artistic and literary movement that emerged in 1916. It arose in reaction to World War I, and the nationalism and rationalism that many thought had led to the War. Influenced by several avant-gardes - Cubism, Futurism, Constructivism, and Expressionism - its output was wildly diverse, ranging from performance art to poetry, photography, sculpture, painting and collage. Emerging first in Zurich, it spread to cities including Berlin, Hanover, Paris, New York and Cologne.
  • Collage was first employed in fine art in the context of Cubism, and involved the introduction of pre-existing materials into new designs, often to produce a playful ambiguity between art and reality. It has since been enormously influential, impacting not only drawing and painting but also attitudes to sculpture.
  • Photomontage is essentially a single artwork combined of two or more original or existing photos, produced to encourage audiences to consider the relationship between the grouped images.
  • Neo-Dada refers to works of art from the 1950s that employ popular imagery and modern materials, often resulting in something absurd. Neo-Dada is both a continuation of the earlier Dada movement and an important precursor to Pop art. Some important Neo-Dada artists include Robert Rauschenberg, Jasper Johns, Robert Morris and Allan Kaprow.

The Important Artists and Works of Readymade and The Found Object

Bicycle Wheel (1913)

Artist: Marcel Duchamp

This work, described by Duchamp as a "pleasant gadget," combined a stool with a wheel, which was intermittently turned so that it would revolve for viewers. Duchamp termed this an "assisted readymade" as it was based on the combination of two different objects.

The arrangement of these two objects is visually striking, even comical. As Duchamp experienced himself, there is also something very pleasing in how tactical this work appears, as if it invites the viewer to spin the wheel themselves. The work fuses together two different useful objects, but in doing so, renders them both stripped of their original function. We can no longer ride the bike or sit on the stool so the objects are totally reimagined. Instead, they become objects for us to contemplate, to look at, to treat as we would anything else in a gallery space. By juxtaposing two different objects, Duchamp creates a new thing, which is neither one nor the other.

The Fountain (1917)

Artist: Marcel Duchamp

The Fountain is one of the best-known works of the 20th century and continues to be considered the most influential piece of modern art. Though its composition is simple - a porcelain urinal lay on its side and inscribed with the words "R. Mutt" and date - its impact on the art world cannot be understated.

With this piece, Duchamp could be saying any number of things, but most importantly, he seems to decimate the cultural reverence there is for art objects by making one of the most ubiquitous and lowly objects into one of admiration. By unifying the sacred and the profane, Duchamp rethinks the innate demands of art by asking us to laugh or feel puzzled by the object, rather than respecting it. Duchamp shows that even an ordinary toilet can become worth an incredible amount of money simply because an artist has selected it.

Duchamp also makes a joke about the good aesthetic "taste" of the artist by picking an object that most people would simply mock. He seems to challenge his audience, asking them: could you display this in your home? Clearly, one might never think it is in good taste to display a toilet, but by abstracting it from its use, Duchamp asks his audience to recontextualize the work, so it is no longer defined by its use, but instead by its lack of purpose. If we do this, then the object no longer becomes distasteful, but merely another object. By using indifference in selecting his objects, and transforming them into something other, Duchamp wanted to avoid making art into a purely aesthetic ideal that appealed only to the eye.

Though Duchamp is famous for his creation of the readymade, he actually only created thirteen such works of his own. Aside from The Fountain, this included Bicycle Wheel and Bottle Rack (1914), Prelude to a Broken Arm (1915), Pulled at 4 Pins (1915), Comb (1915), Traveller's Folding Item (1916), Trap (1917), 50cc of Paris Air (1919), Fresh Window (1920), Brawl at Austerlitz (1921), Belle Haleine, Eau de Voilette (1921), and Why Not Sneeze, Rose Selavy (1921).

God (1917)

Artist: Baroness Elsa von Freytag-Loringhoven

This work was created in collaboration by The Baroness and painter and photographer Morton Schamberg. The piece was originally solely attributed to Schamberg, but recent scholarship has found that it is likely to have been a combined effort. The piece is a section of cast-iron plumbing that has been turned upside down and mounted to a wooden base.

God is considered the sister piece to Duchamp's The Fountain in both the use of banal plumbing parts and its re-contextualized orientation. Because The Baroness and Duchamp were dear friends, even living for a time in the same apartment building, and because God was made in the same year as The Fountain, there has been much speculation about which piece was actually created first. Like The Fountain, God takes an overlooked item and repositions it in a new setting, questioning the inherent value in any piece of art. However, Freytag-Loringhoven places a different emphasis on this piece through its title. By naming this phallic-shaped piece God, she appears to make fun of the traditional idea of God as an authoritative figure. In joining together the high and the low, she questions the arbitrary boundary between the two, and the societal structures that keep them in place.

This piece also asks interesting questions about authorship, particularly in the fact that it has been misattributed in the past. By a woman artist naming a lowly object God, she gives herself a new power to name and to create, a power that is affiliated with God himself (notice God is traditionally considered male). Freytag-Loringhoven's playful and yet powerful work seeks to question the possibility of women to assert their own independence by challenging dominating power structures.

Useful Resources on Readymade and The Found Object

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Content compiled and written by Katie Da Cunha Lewin

Edited and revised, with Summary and Accomplishments added by Kimberly Nichols

"Readymade and The Found Object Definition Overview and Analysis". [Internet]. . TheArtStory.org
Content compiled and written by Katie Da Cunha Lewin
Edited and revised, with Summary and Accomplishments added by Kimberly Nichols
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First published on 22 May 2019. Updated and modified regularly
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