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1964 artist-authorized replica of "Fountain (1917) made by the artist's dealer, "Arturo Schwarz, based on a photograph by "Alfred Stieglitz. Porcelain, 360 x 480 x 610 mm. "Tate Modern, London.

The readymades of "Marcel Duchamp are ordinary manufactured objects that the artist selected and modified, as an antidote to what he called "retinal art".[1] By simply choosing the object (or objects) and repositioning or joining, titling and signing it, the "Found object became art.

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 (1914) 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,"[2] 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 first definition of "readymade" appeared in "André Breton and "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." While published under the name of Marcel Duchamp (or his initials, "MD," to be precise), André Gervais nevertheless asserts that Breton wrote this particular dictionary entry.[3]

Duchamp only made a total of 13 readymades over a period of time of 30 years.[4] He felt that he could only avoid the trap of his own taste by limiting output, though he was aware of the contradiction of avoiding taste, yet also selecting an object. Taste, he felt, whether "good" or "bad," was the "enemy of art."[5]

His conception of the readymade changed and developed over time. "My intention was to get away from myself," he said, "though I knew perfectly well that I was using myself. Call it a little game between 'I' and 'me'".[6]

Duchamp was unable to define or explain his opinion of readymades: "The curious thing about the readymade is that I've never been able to arrive at a definition or explanation that fully satisfies me."[7] 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."[1]

"Robert Fulford described Duchamp's ready-mades as expressing "an angry nihilism".[8]


The objects themselves[edit]

By submitting some of them as art to art juries, the public, and his patrons, Duchamp 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[edit]


(Note: Some art historians consider only the un-altered manufactured objects to be readymades. This list includes the pieces he altered or constructed.)

"Marcel Duchamp, "Fountain, 1917. Photograph by "Alfred Stieglitz

Assisted readymades[edit]

Why Not Sneeze, Rose Sélavy?

Rectified readymades[edit]

Doubts over readymades[edit]

Research published in 1997 by "Rhonda Roland Shearer questions whether Duchamp's ""found objects" objects may actually have been created by Duchamp.["citation needed] 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 Arensberg and "Joseph Stella being 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 that still exist 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.[16]

"Mona Lisa by "Leonardo da Vinci. Original painting from circa 1503–1507. Oil on poplar.
L.H.O.O.Q., Duchamp's parody of the "Mona Lisa adds a "goatee and "moustache.

See also[edit]

Notes and references[edit]

  1. ^ a b Tomkins: Duchamp: A Biography, page 158.
  2. ^ 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.
  3. ^ Obalk, Hector: "The Unfindable Readymade", toutfait.com, Issue 2, 2000.
  4. ^ Marcel Duchamp 1968 BBC interview—YouTube video. Content at 15:30.
  5. ^ Duchamp:A Biography, by Tomkins, 1996, p. 159
  6. ^ Tomkins: Duchamp: A Biography, page 160.
  7. ^ Tomkins: Duchamp: A Biography, page 159.
  8. ^ nationalpost.com May 2015
  9. ^ http://www.cabinetmagazine.org/issues/27/durantaye.php
  10. ^ Cabanne: Dialogs with Marcel Duchamp, page 55.
  11. ^ Duchamp, Marcel trans. and qtd. in "Gammel, Baroness Elsa, 224.
  12. ^ Gammel, Baroness Elsa, 224-225.
  13. ^ Atkins, Robert: Artspeak, 1990, Abbeville Press, "ISBN "1-55859-010-2
  14. ^ http://www.christies.com/lotfinder/sculptures-statues-figures/marcel-duchamp-belle-haleine-eau-de-5157362-details.aspx
  15. ^ [1] Marcel Duchamp.net, retrieved December 9, 2009
  16. ^ Shearer, Rhonda Roland: "Marcel Duchamp's Impossible Bed and Other 'Not' Readymade Objects: A Possible Route of Influence From Art To Science", 1997.

External links[edit]

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