April 8, 2012

Our Readymade Centennial

Duchamp's contribution to conceptual art (and appropriation), the "readymade" turns 100 in 2014. To celebrate the centennial, I proposed an exhibition of "new" readymades to my friend and colleague, Jack Rasmussen, Director of American University's Katzen Arts Center. Jack accepted heartily and the exhibition will open in October 2014. You can follow our progress at Readymade at 100.

In January, I went to the Philadelphia Museum of Art and met with the museum's Department of Modern and Contemporary Art to discuss the possible loan of some of their Duchamp readymades. PMA, of course, has the largest collection of Duchamp artworks in the U.S. and owns several readymades from the 1914-21 era.(1)

Just to get us started, let us consider Comb from 1916. This little article sits unassumingly in a glass vitrine in Room 182 at PMA. Obviously ill-advised to use upon a human head, speculation is that this device may have been used on dogs or cattle.(2) The "use value" of this readymade is rendered moot, however, with MD's tiny inscription along the comb's edge that suggests other more erotic uses.(3)

Regardless, it is such a delightfully enchanting item that I sorely hope PMA will loan it to the Katzen for our little show. Duchamp himself felt it epitomized the ideal characteristics of a readymade: "No beauty, no ugliness, nothing particularly aesthetic about it."

Image: Comb (1916), gray steel comb, rectified readymade, 16.6x3cm, PMA's Louise and Walter Arensberg Collection.


1. In the 1960's Duchamp would create "replicas" while living in New York City. I am interested in corresponding with anyone owning Duchamp "original" replicas.

2. http://www.toutfait.com/unmaking_the_museum/Comb.html

3. "3 OU 4 GOUTTES DE HAUTEUR N'ONT RIEN A FAIRE AVEC LA SAUVAGERIE," translates as "3 or 4 drops from [of] height have nothing to do with savagery".

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