September 13, 2014

"1st Order Readymades" (Part 2)

An object, usually singular, that is virtually an “off the shelf,” commodity item that is designated as art by the artist within the context of an institutionalized display; Duchamp’s Bottle Rack, Fountain and Trap (a coat-rack) are prime examples.(1) These unaltered or “pure objects” display the closest conceptual rigor and allegiance to Duchamp’s invention.

At first glance, Three standard lossages, an “osteological specimen” by Ana María Gómez López, suggests a moderate takeaway on the readymade’s power of contextualization. However, these “bones” are 3D printout replicas that have a “potential for commercial circulation, as their accompanying .obj files can be made rapidly available on fabrication websites.”(2) Gómez López riffs on Duchamp’s Three Standard Stoppages, a work of chance placement of string, to underline her idea that an individual’s bones rendered universal through commodification are re-contextualized (again) as an “art object.”

Such 1st Order readymades as Olga Alexander’s McCall’s block & lot #4620 (a jacket pattern), Larry Lairson’s Untitled (pole) and Angela Smalls’ Silver Raindrops, a pile of hex-head bolts, negate the essence of an object’s privileged usefulness via the artists’ choices and our institutional validation. Simultaneously, these objects both are and aren’t “art.”

Many of the 1st Order readymades rely on titles to maximize their frisson. Andrew Simmons unnerves us with his title proclaiming that a razorblade holds the Cure for Human Suffering, while Bill Conger promises that the wearer of his sunglasses will have the Deepest Darkest view. On a lighter note, it may be a stretch to connect Joseph Orzal’s Picasso, baby t-shirt to Reaganomics but we can easily envision Kristin Richards’ framing nail strips laid edge-to-edge on the floor as a Rug.


IMAGE: Detail of Rug 001 by Kristin Richards; 31,876 framing nails; 8x12 feet; photograph by the artist; © Copyright 2014. 

UPDATE: Michael O'Sullivan's Art Review at WAPO.

1. Duchamp wrote titles and/or signed some of these but most scholars do not view these inscriptions as alterations. In “The Unfindable Readymade,” art historian Hector Obalk says Duchamp gave us only 10 “pure objects” as readymades;

2. Quote from undated statement by Ana María Gómez López.

September 6, 2014

Curatorial Essay for "Readymade@100" (Part 1)

It is hard to name a more polarizing event in 20th century art history than Marcel Duchamp’s selection of mass-produced, commodity items and their re-contextualization as art objects. 

Clearly, Duchamp’s theoretical positioning of commercially manufactured things as “art objects” has continued to provoke controversy and to influence subsequent generations of artists. His act of “choice” has become the exemplar of an art practice that would birth Conceptual Art as an art theory stressing the idea as paramount over the form an object may take. Duchamp himself may have foreseen the potential impact of his invention when he 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)

Duchamp had lost interest in painting by 1912, partly from disappointment at the reception given to his Nude Descending a Staircase and partly because so-called advanced painting of that era, in its emulation and admiration of scientific or optical theories of color, had continued to reinforce the existing aesthetic canon that Duchamp would come to dismiss as “retinal art.”

Ironically, Duchamp’s decision to mount a bicycle wheel atop a stool was perhaps related to his fascination with movement, as he described watching that wheel turn was like “looking at the flames dancing in a fireplace.”(2) By the time Duchamp arrived in America in 1915, and discovered the English word readymade that described machine-made clothing, he retroactively tagged two of his most memorable commodity object choices, Bottle Rack and In Advance of the Broken Arm (the snow shovel), as readymades. Duchamp now understood that simply through his intellectual selection of these industrial forms he was given a means of “substitution of the handmade by the already manufactured.”(3)

To address the legacy of the readymade, as well as attempt a determination of its evolving “definitions” in current art practice, are the chief curatorial goals for this exhibit. Thus, Readymade@100, a Centennial Celebration of Duchamp’s invention, included an “open call” exhibition opportunity for contemporary artists to submit “new readymades” that would honor his concept and/or significantly expand upon the readymade concept.

In early reviews of artists’ submissions, I began to grasp how the collective and continued understanding of Duchamp’s idea was sometimes respectfully copied and just as often brazenly ignored, but frequently indelibly transformed by contemporary artists. It became abundantly clear to me that our Readymade@100 exhibition, far from being mere homage to “The Old Fox,”(4) may also provide us an opportunity for an appraisal of the multiple trajectories this marvelous, contrary and liberating concept has taken into the 21st century.

My curatorial vision was to maintain an emphatic reverence for Duchamp’s selection of the unaltered, manufactured object as encompassing both a disruption of the object’s function and its concomitant transformation through its new context as art. Further, and on this point most scholars agree, Duchamp was first to designate unaltered, manufactured objects as art and to present these commodity objects as his readymades. Thus, he distinguishes his choice as the conceptual act of “making art” from existing mass-produced objects and this distinction separates Duchamp’s readymades from works that were created from “found objects” and then further modified and/or altered by artists.

In curating the submissions for Readymade@100, I applied strict criteria for acceptance based on what I perceive as Duchamp’s original vision. Moreover, this required respect for a century’s worth of academic and scholarly research on the subject. Before discussing my curatorial selections, I want to clarify my elimination of assemblage from the exhibit. Assemblage is “made from natural or man-made objects, is labor-intensive, sculptural and an additive process to develop form. As such, it is far from the essence of a readymade, even though it is sometimes constructed of found objects,”(5) because the result becomes one’s aesthetic composition that drifts away from Duchamp’s conceptual act of choosing a commodity object. Thus, the essence of Duchamp’s anti-aesthetics, this “anesthesia” of taste in his readymade act, is that “the abandonment of craft constitutes the craft.”(6)

But let Duchamp speak for himself as he strictly adjudicates all paintings as assemblage: “Since the tubes of paint used by the artist are manufactured and readymade products, we must conclude that all the paintings in the world are ‘readymades aided’ and also works of assemblage.”(7)


IMAGE: Illustration by unknown artist that appeared in a Parisian newspaper on the 65th Anniversary of the readymade; English translation of the caption reads, Marcel Duchamp buying at the Bazar of the Hotel de Ville one of the objects he brought to New York in 1915 and called Readymades. (Reproduction courtesy of Lila Snow.) 

1. Tomkins, Calvin. Duchamp: A Biography; New York: Museum of Modern Art Edition; 2014; p. 155.

2. Schwartz, Arturo. The Complete Works of Marcel Duchamp; New York: Delano Greenidge; 2000; p. 588.

3. Alkhas, Anita. “Heidegger in Plain Sight: ‘The Origin of the Work of Art’ and Marcel Duchamp;” Journal of Philosophy: A Cross-Disciplinary Inquiry; Vol. 5: No. 12; Spring 2010; p. 5.

4. Walter Hopps’ characterization of Duchamp in letter dated August 20, 1963 to Frederic S. Wight, then chair of UCLA Art Department; original in Norton Simon Museum Archives, Pasadena, CA.

6. De Duve, Thierry. “The Readymade and Abstraction” in Pictorial Nominalism: On Marcel Duchamp’s Passage from Painting to the Readymade; Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press; 1991; p. 158.

7. Duchamp, Marcel. “Apropos of Readymades” in Salt Seller: The Essential Writings of Marcel Duchamp; (Michel Sanouillet, Elmer Peterson: eds.); New York: Oxford University Press; 1973; 142.

August 31, 2014

"Readymade@100" Opens Sept. 6

At some point last week, while laying out the 61 works that will be in my Readymade@100 show I had the brilliant idea of using Duchamp's "Large Glass"(1) as a template for placement of our multifarious works. If you are familiar with the "Glass" you may recall a kind of half-arch, or "post-and-lintel-minus-one," in the upper portion known as "The Bride's Domain." In a moment of tenacious reverence for "all things Duchamp," I envisioned the Katzen Arts Center's semicircular, south end of the ground floor, embodying the "Draft Pistons or Nets" and "The Bride" and her ""Sex Cylinder," being composed of Mazin Abdelhameid's "#FOUND," John Perrault's "Something Stolen by Mark Cameron Boyd or someone he designates," Renee Regan's "Balance of Dignity and Desire," Chris Chernow's "Tensions," Vanessa Niederstrasser's "Just Picked," Alex Mayer's "Untitled #2" and Christian Meade's "Smith."

This brainstorm came to an abrupt and resolute end when I realized that the lower portion of the "Glass" would require something like twelve pedestals to represent the "Nine Malic Molds," not to mention the erstwhile "Chocolate Grinder."

Perhaps someone will make another attempt at this in 2114?

In any case, please do come to our opening this Saturday, September 6th, from 6:00 to 9:00 pm at the Katzen. I am certain you will be astounded, amused and in awe of what Duchamp hath wrought in one hundred years.

IMAGE: MCB's "Installation Map" with numeric locations corresponding to the master "By Orders" listing of where the sixty-one artworks are to be placed. 

1. The official title, "The Bride Stripped Bare by Her Bachelors, Even," became known as "The Large Glass." The original version, with broken glass, sits in the Philadelphia Museum of Art. In 1966, British artist Richard Hamilton created a replica of the "Glass," with instructions and guidance from Duchamp, and they both agreed, according to Duchamp's biographer, Calvin Tomkins, that it "was as close as anyone could come to the way it had looked before the glass was broken." Both Duchamp and Hamilton signed it as a joint work and it's in the Tate Modern collection in London.