An object that may have indeterminate function, origin and/or conscious recognition for us but is “irreplaceable” for the one who found it.
Allow me to briefly address the distinctions of the found object. Contradictions have ensued in an artist’s selection of, or as Duchamp would have it, their “indifference” to, an object as a readymade. Certain art historians, scholars, critics and curators throughout the 20th century have exasperatingly continued to classify artists’ found objects as readymades, and conversely, confuse readymades with found objects. A cursory Internet search of objet trouvé produces 22 million hits but a quick glance at MOMA’s site reveals: “With the exception of the Ready-made, in which a manufactured object is generally presented on its own without mediation, the objet trouvé is most often used as raw material in an assemblage with juxtaposition as a guiding principle.”(1)
One may easily see the complications, as “the found object shares with the readymade a lack of obvious aesthetic quality and little intervention on the part of the artist beyond putting the object in circulation.” However, we must recognize that “while the readymade is essentially indifferent, multiple, and mass-produced, the found object is essentially singular or irreplaceable.”(2) I might add, that that irreplaceability is specific to the artist who found it and that we must remain open to the possibility that a mass-produced, commodity object, whether new or “used,” may fulfill an artist’s “singular or irreplaceable” need.
During the final weeks before the open call deadline, American University Museum staff and I had received numerous queries as to “what” a readymade was and “how” a readymade was defined. As I explained on my Theory Now blog, I declined to answer because to do so would be tantamount to prescribing the kinds of submissions that artists should submit. In our exhibition of these works, we now know the “who,” “when” and “where” of this mystery but the “why” may forever elude us.
It has been my fervent hope that my Readymade@100 exhibition would attract an audience ready to engage in new debate and discourse on Duchamp’s readymade and its contemporary manifestations. I believe that it is the continuous give-and-take of discourse, the assertion and counter-assertion of argument, that will compel us, if not to a position of understanding, at least to a better grasp of the subject. Finally, whether these “new readymades” meet your measure of authenticity, or you find yourself merely “indifferent,” I trust that this exhibition is a transformative experience.
IMAGE: Rebecca Hirsh, The Rake’s Progress; 2012; steel; 18x18x11 inches; © Copyright by the artist; photo by MCB.
2. Iversen, Margaret. “Found Object, Readymade, Photograph;” Art Journal, Vol. 63, No. 2; Summer 2004; p. 48-50.