I recently finished reading two books about Marcel Duchamp. The first was Marcel Duchamp, The Afternoon Interviews by Calvin Tomkins, and the other was Marcel Duchamp, Appearance Stripped Bare by Octavio Paz. Both were good reads although the Paz book was difficult going in parts.

Both books of course dealt with the important art history significance of Duchamp’s Readymades. I’ve struggled with my personal feelings about whether a Readymade is art, and from what I understand Duchamp did as well. But it does seem that 100 years later now, Readymades are at least institutionally recognized as art and artists continue to work in that mode. I remain ambivalent.

One of my fundamental problems with Duchamp’s notion of Readymades is the idea that selection alone of something by an artist is sufficient for that thing to be considered art. More confusing still is that for Duchamp the “selection” process had to be one of absolute indifference to the object, even to the point of employing methods of chance. If that is the case then their is no artistic intent, and for me that means there is no art. There is no human element to a chance selection process. One need only create a random number generator with assigned objects in order to create (or “select”) a Readymade. That is not a human endeavor and so not art.

Still, the concept of a Readymade is useful to artists and art appreciators in order to force some floor of thought to the question of “what is art?” I do feel that I have a clearer concept of art, and I understand the history of the question better.  It may be though that the question itself is the useful part, and not the answer.

There are a number websites from a variety of sources for further reading on the subject. There is also some real misunderstanding on those sites which I find amusing during this 100 year anniversary of the Readymade.

If you walk into my booth at some future show and see a pedestal with what looks like an upside down, camera , signed …………….


2 thoughts on “Readymades at 100 Years Old

  1. In some respects, they are similar to some photographs…. “Here I am. You never REALLY looked at me. Do so now.”

    1. Marty,
      I’ve thought about that a lot. My feeling is that photography shouldn’t be singled out in that regard. It is true for all mediums that an artist may create something with “here I am….” as the driving motivation. In a gallery recently I saw an exhibit of works depicting trash objects reproduced flawlessly from wood. I wouldn’t have considered the actual trash on a pedestal art, but I was enthralled by the wood renderings.

      Had a clay artist made the urinal (fountain) exactly to the form of Duchamps, I would be more inclined to consider it as art. But, even then only if the artist was purposely speaking to some point or aesthetic. Pointing to something and saying “look” is not enough to “create” art.. As it turns out I don’t think that is what Duchamp was doing anyway. He had no visual interest in the “fountain”, it was an object of complete indifference (by his own desire).

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