Readymades of Marcel Duchamp
. Porcelain, 360 x 480 x 610 mm.
Tate Modern, London.]
The readymades of
Marcel Duchampare ordinary manufactured objects that he selected and modified, as an antidote to what he called "retinal art". [Tomkins: "Duchamp: A Biography", page 158.] By simply choosing the object (or objects) and repositioning or joining, and titling and signing it, the object became art. It was the the least amount of interaction between artist and art, and the most extreme form of minimalism that had yet been seen at the time.
Of the readymades Duchamp said "The curious thing about the readymade is that I've never been able to arrive at a definition or explanation that fully satisfies me." [Tomkins: "Duchamp: A Biography", page 159.]
Duchamp was not interested in what he called "retinal art" — art that was only visual — and sought other methods of expression. As an antidote to "retinal art" he began creating readymades at a time (1915) when the term was commonly used in the United States to describe manufactured items to distinguish them from handmade goods.
He selected the pieces on the basis of "visual indifference",Cabanne: "Dialogs with Marcel Duchamp", Thames and Hudson (1971), page 48. "Cabanne: What determined your choice of readymades? Duchamp: That depended on the object. In general, I had to beware, at the end of fifteen days, you begin to like it or hate it. You have to approach something with indifference, as if you had no aesthetic emotion. The choice of readymades is always based on visual indifference and, at the same time, on the total absence of good or bad taste."] and the selections reflect his sense of irony, humor and ambiguity.
"...it was always the idea that came first, not the visual example", he said, "...a form of denying the possibility of defining art."
The only definition of "readymade" published under the name of Marcel Duchamp ("MD" to be precise) says in
André Bretonand Paul Éluard's "Dictionnaire abrégé du Surréalisme": "an ordinary object elevated to the dignity of a work of art by the mere choice of an artist." However, André Gervaisasserts that Breton wrote the definition for the Surrealist dictionary.Obalk, Hector: [http://www.toutfait.com/issues/issue_2/Articles/obalk.html "The Unfindable Readymade"] , toutfait.com, Issue 2, 2000. ]
Duchamp limited his yearly output of readymades and made no more than 20 in his lifetime. He felt that only by limiting output, could he avoid the trap of his own taste. Though he was aware of the contradiction of avoiding taste, yet also selecting an object. Taste, "good" or "bad", he felt was the "enemy of art."
Through the years his own concept of the readymades kept changing. "My intention was to get away from myself, though I knew perfectly well that I was using myself. Call it a little game between 'I' and 'me'." [Tomkins: "Duchamp: A Biography", page 160.]
Much later in life Duchamp said, "I'm not at all sure that the concept of the readymade isn't the most important single idea to come out of my work." [Tomkins: "Duchamp: A Biography", page 158.]
By submitting some of them as art to art juries, the public, and his patrons, he challenged conventional notions of what is, and what is not, art. Some were rejected by art juries and others went unnoticed at art shows.
Most of his early readymades have been lost or discarded, but years later he commissioned reproductions of many of them.
Types of readymades
*"Readymades" - un-altered objects
*"Reciprocal readymades" - using Rembrandt as an ironing board.
"(Note: Some art historians consider only the un-altered manufactured objects to be readymades. This list includes the pieces he altered or constructed.)"
Bicycle Wheel" "(Roue de bicyclette)" (1913) Assisted readymade. [http://www.moma.org/collection/browse_results.php?object_id=81631 Museum of Modern Art] :Bicycle wheel mounted by its fork on a painted wooden stool. He fashioned it to amuse himself by spinning it, "...like watching a fire... It was a pleasant gadget, pleasant for the movement it gave." The first readymade, though he initiated the ideas two years later. The original from 1913 was lost, and Duchamp recreated the sculpture in 1951.
:"Bicycle Wheel" is said to be the first
kinetic sculpture. [Atkins, Robert: "Artspeak", 1990, Abbeville Press, ISBN 1-55859]
"Pharmacy" "(Pharmacie)" (1914) Rectified readymade. [http://www.toutfait.com/issues/volume2/issue_5/news/adcock/images/15_big.jpgExternal link] :Gouache on chromolithograph of a scene with bare trees and a winding stream to which he added two dots of watercolor, red and green, like the colored liquids in a pharmacy.
Bottle Rack" (also called "Bottle Dryer" or "Hedgehog") ("Egouttoir" or "Porte-bouteilles" or "Hérisson") (1914) Readymade. [http://www.philamuseum.org/collections/permanent/92377.html Philadelphia Museum of Art] :Galvanized iron bottle drying rack which he bought in 1914 as an "already made" sculpture, but it gathered dust in the corner of his Paris studio because the idea of "readymade" had not yet been born. Two years later, through correspondence from New York with his sister, Suzanne Duchamp, in France he intended to make it a readymade by asking her to paint on it "(from) Marcel Duchamp. However, Suzanne, who was looking after his Paris studio, had already disposed of it.
"In advance of the broken arm" "(En avance du bras cassé)" (1915) Readymade. [http://www.toutfait.com/issues/volume2/issue_5/articles/merritt/images/04_shovel_big.jpgExternal link] :Snow shovel on which he carefully painted the title. The first piece he called a "readymade". New to America, Duchamp had never seen a snow shovel which were not manufactured in France. With fellow Frenchman
Jean Crottihe purchased it from a stack of them, took it to their shared studio, painted the title and "from Marcel Duchamp 1915" on it, and hung it from a wire in the studio. Many years later, a replica of the piece is said to have been mistaken for an ordinary snow shovel and used to move snow off the sidewalks of Chicago.
"Pulled at 4 pins" (1915) Readymade. [http://www.toutfait.com/issues/volume2/issue_5/artandliterature/petrov/images/08_big.jpgExternal link] :An unpainted chimney ventilator that turns in the wind. The title is a literal translation of the French phrase, "tiré à quatre épingles", which is a rough equivalent of the English phrase "dressed to the nines." Duchamp liked that the literal translation meant nothing in English and had no relation to the object
"Comb" "(Peigne)" (1916) Readymade. [http://www.philamuseum.org/collections/permanent/51552.html Philadelphia Museum of Art] :Steel dog grooming comb inscribed along the edge in white, "3 ou 4 gouttes de hauteur n'ont rien a faire avec la sauvagerie; M.D. Feb. 17 1916 11 a.m." In English, "Three or Four Drops of Height [or Haughtiness] Have Nothing to Do with Savagery."
"Traveller's Folding Item" "(...pliant,... de voyage)" (1916) Readymade. [http://www.toutfait.com/issues/volume2/issue_5/news/adcock/images/11_big.jpgExternal link] :Underwood Typewriter cover.
"With Hidden Noise" "(A bruit secret)" (1916) Assisted readymade. [http://www.philamuseum.org/collections/permanent/51541.html Philadelphia Museum of Art] :Ball of twine between two brass plates, joined by four screws. An unknown object has been placed in the ball of twine by one of Duchamp's friends.
"Apolinére Enamelled" (1916-1917) Rectified readymade. [http://www.philamuseum.org/collections/permanent/51563.html Philadelphia Museum of Art] :Sapolin paint advertisement.
"Fountain" (1917) Readymade.:Porcelain urinal inscribed "R. Mutt 1917". The board of the 1917 The
Society of Independent Artistsexhibit, of which Duchamp was a director, after much debate about whether "Fountain" was or was not art, hid the piece from view during the show. [Cabanne: "Dialogs with Marcel Duchamp", page 55.] Duchamp quickly quit the society, and the publication of "Blind Man" which followed the exhibition was devoted to the controversy.
"Trap" "(Trébuchet)" (1917) Readymade. [http://www.toutfait.com/issues/volume2/issue_5/articles/gerrard/images/03_Coatrack1964_big.jpgExternal link] :Coatrack, wood and metal. He submitted it to a show at the
Bourgeois Art Galleryand asked that it be placed near the entryway. It went unnoticed as art during the show.
"Unhappy readymade" (1919) Assisted readymade. [http://arthist.binghamton.edu/duchamp/Unhappy%20Readymade.html External link] :Duchamp instructed his sister
Suzanne Duchampto hang a geometry textbook from the balcony of her Paris apartment so that the problems and theorems, exposed to the test of the wind, sun and rain, could "get the facts of life". Suzanne carried out the instructions and painted a picture of the result.
L.H.O.O.Q." (1919) Rectified readymade.:Pencil on a reproduction of Leonardo da Vinci's " Mona Lisa" on which he drew a goateeand moustache. The name when pronounced in French is a coarse French pun — "elle a chaud au cul" means "She's got a hot ass".
"50 cc of Paris Air" ("50 cc air de Paris", "Paris Air" or "Air de Paris") (1919) [http://www.philamuseum.org/collections/permanent/51617.html Philadelphia Museum of Art (1919)] [http://www.philamuseum.org/collections/permanent/51628.html Philadelphia Museum of Art (1949)] :A glass ampoule containing
airfrom Paris. Duchamp took the ampoule to New Yorkin 1920 and gave it to Walter Arensbergas a gift. The original was broken and replaced in 1949 by Duchamp. (Contrary to its title, the volumeof air inside the ampoule was not actually 50 cubic centimeters, although when replicas were made in later decades, 50 cc of air was used. The original ampoule is thought to have contained around 125 cc of air.)
"Belle Haleine, Eau de Violette" (1921) Assisted readymade. [http://www.toutfait.com/images/articles/tigner/21_big.jpgExternal link] :Perfume bottle in the original box.
Why Not Sneeze Rrose Sélavy?" (1921) Assisted readymade.:Marble cubes in the shape of sugar lumps with thermometer and cuttle bones in a small bird cage.
"Wanted, $2,000 Reward" (1923) Rectified readymade. [http://www.toutfait.com/issues/issue_3/Articles/alfaro/images/02_big.jpgExternal link] :Photographic collage on poster.
"Fresh Widow" (1920)
"The Brawl at Austerlitz" (1921) [http://www.toutfait.com/issues/issue_2/Articles/images/la.jpgExternal link]
Doubts over readymades
Research published in 1997 by
Rhonda Roland Shearerquestions whether Duchamp's "found" objects may actually have been created by Duchamp. Her research of items like snow shovels and bottle racks in use at the time failed to turn up any identical matches to photographs of the originals. However, there are accounts of Walter Arensbergand Joseph Stellabeing with Duchamp when he purchased the original "Fountain" at J. L. Mott Iron Works. Such investigations are hampered by the fact that few of the original "readymades" survive, having been lost or destroyed. Those which exist today are predominantly reproductions authorized or designed by Duchamp in the final two decades of his life. Shearer also asserts that the artwork "L.H.O.O.Q." which is recorded to be a poster-copy of the " Mona Lisa" with a moustache drawn on it, is not the true "Mona Lisa", but Duchamp's own slightly-different version that he modelled partly after himself. The inference of Shearer's viewpoint is that Duchamp was creating an even larger joke than he admitted.Shearer, Rhonda Roland: [http://www.duchamp.org/ImpossibleBed/PartI/ "Marcel Duchamp's Impossible Bed and Other 'Not' Readymade Objects: A Possible Route of Influence From Art To Science"] , 1997.]
Notes and references
*Tomkins, Calvin: "Duchamp: A Biography". Henry Holt and Company, Inc., 1996. ISBN 0-8050-5789-7
*Hulten, Pontus (editor): "Marcel Duchamp: Work and Life", The MIT Press, 1993. ISBN 0-262-08225-X
*Cabanne, Pierre: "Dialogs with Marcel Duchamp", Da Capo Press, Inc., 1979 (1969 in French), ISBN 0-306-80303-8
*Girst, Thomas: [http://www.toutfait.com/issues/volume2/issue_5/articles/girst2/girst1.html "(Ab)Using Marcel Duchamp: The Concept of the Readymade in Post-War and Contemporary American Art"] , toutfait.com, Issue 5, 2003
* [http://www.toutfait.com/ Toutfait: The Marcel Duchamp Studies Online Journal]
* [http://smarthistory.org/blog/62/duchamp-and-the-ready-made/ smARThistory: Duchamp's Readymades]
* [http://arthist.binghamton.edu/duchamp/ Unmaking the Museum: Marcel Duchamp's Readymades in Context]
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