December 3, 2014

R.I.P. Bobby Keys.

Today the soul, the gut, the frisson of Rock 'n’ Roll died; Bobby Keys has passed at 70.

What does this mean? Of course, the Rolling Stones were captivating; Mick mesmerizing, Keith raw, and Charlie…if you want to know the truth about the lure of the Stones just listen to Bill Wyman and Charlie Watts live circa ’69 to ’73. Their interplay, without the lyrics and glamour of Mick ‘n’ Keef, without the open G chords and the pouts, that still-riveting belly-punch of electric-sexual-energies of bass and drums.

Recalling “Brown Sugar,” with Mick’s voice and that lyric-range of misogyny to addiction to rage, and back again, through ennui, melancholy and loss, those long-ago words don't punch as mean as that Bobby Keys’ sax solo, dropping a blistering hot-wax that peppers down “Brown Sugar” with the spice and swagger Mick barely registers.

That sexual saxophone is undeniable – you can go back to Yardbird Parker, then trace down through the Chicago R&B bands, to Muscle Shoals, New Orleans and back to Detroit. But it was Bobby Keys who would cut loose with those memorable staccato instrumental sax breaks that strip the Stones’ latent 3 minute pop lust to an essential blustering strut.

IMAGE: Bobby Keys on 1973 Stones tour; photo by Michael Putland.

October 10, 2014

And not to forget…Objet trouvé (Part 6)

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.

October 3, 2014

"4th Order Readymades" (Part 5)

Variously fretted over by art historians, theorists, and even Duchamp himself (posthumously) these past 100 years, critical positions on the readymade vary widely. Thierry de Duve’s position in 1994 was that Duchamp reduced art to “the most primary convention…of all modernist artistic practice, namely that works of art are shown in order to be judged as such.”(1) Yet there is doubt that Duchamp originally wanted to show the readys as “works of art” and he said as much in a 1964 interview: “It was an idea; to have it in your own place like a fire. It was not intended to be shown.”(2)

50 years after he conducted that interview, Duchamp’s renowned biographer Calvin Tomkins takes the intransigent Conceptual Art stance: “The real point of the readymades was to deny the possibility of defining art. Art can be anything. It isn’t an object or even an image, it’s an activity of the spirit.”(3)

This brings us to the final, 4th Order – objects combined with “action.” Our survey yields only five such artists. Not unsurprisingly, four of these objects/projects use collaborative action as a transformative methodology to extend Duchamp’s basic disruption of function into social practice.

The 4th Order readys run the gamut of collaborative actions; two submissions even involved your humble curator. Allison Yasukawa submitted a collaborative invitation for me to wear a lottery ticket on the bottom of one of my shoes for the duration of the show; it’s called Limp and I accepted. John Perreault’s piece was to be Something Stolen, specifically “by Mark Cameron Boyd or someone he designates.” Naturally, I designated John as that “someone” so he “stole” one of his own small paintings from a gallery. (“Furthermore, although the medium is instant coffee, I stole the idea from Victor Hugo, who did many drawings using coffee.”)(4)

Mazin Abdelhameid wryly addresses the readymade’s expansion to the virtual world by inviting museum visitors to “place found objects and ready-mades, whether it be something inside a pocket, or a recently bought item” on a display shelf, photograph it and share via various social media platforms using #FOUND. Abdelhameid’s piece functions as social practice by asking the public to act as a “marketing tool for both itself and the exhibit” and he has also set-up off-site locations, in addition to this Katzen Arts Center site, “to engage with the public through an introduction of Marcel Duchamp’s various concepts.”(5)

William Brovelli’s conflates the necessity of the dual “sites” of his readymade while questioning the tangibility of objects in a virtual world. Ostensibly “interactive,” his domain name’s URL lies dormant on a Wi-Fi connected flat-screen monitor, its lean design streaming only an obdurate minimalism.

With Mix ‘n Match, Jackie Hoysted references Duchamp’s “rectified” readymades (L.H.O.O.Q. and Pharmacy) to create a participatory rectification and appropriation of Damien Hirst’s spot paintings. Hoysted’s deferral of the “action” to the museum visitor easily shifts her piece from a 2nd Order “assist” to a uniquely transformative 4th Order readymade, with a subtle critique of how Hirst “employs a large staff” to make his “mass-produced readymade commodities.”(6)

[Next week: Part 6, “Objet trouvé”] 
IMAGE: Jackie Hoysted, Mix ‘n Match; 2014; encaustic on wooden disks, interactive installation, dimensions variable (H48xW156 inches); © Copyright by Jackie Hoysted; photo by MCB.


1. De Duve, Thierry. “Echoes of the Readymade: Critique of Pure Modernism” in The
Duchamp Effect; (Marcia Buskirk, Mignon Nixon: eds.); Cambridge:MIT; 1996; p. 96.

2. Tomkins, Calvin. Marcel Duchamp: The Afternoon Interviews; Brooklyn: Badlands; 2013; p. 73.

3. Ibid., p. 17.

4. Quote from June 5, 2014 statement by John Perreault.

5. Quotes from undated statement by Mazin Abdelhameid.

6. Quote from undated statement by Jackie Hoysted.

September 25, 2014

"3rd Order Readymades" (Part 4)

Conceptually combined commodity objects, 3rd Order works comprise nearly a third of the exhibit, and I take this as a positive sign in the transitional development of the humble readymade in the 21st century. The combination of commodity objects, itself a remnant of the Surrealist theory of juxtaposition, can awaken subliminal meanings in the viewer, infusing the objects with reverie, apprehension or humor.

Individually, the 3rd Order artists bring varying skill-sets to the game: some couple a walker with ab-cruncher (Renee Regan), or Toast electronic devices (John Cairns). Others use their titles as punch-lines; Anne Mourier mounts a pair of domed plate covers on doilies to recall My First Bra and M. L. Van Nice’s dried fruit in a box suggests that it’s Altogether Too Late for the Pratfall. Chee Wang Ng offers 108 Global Rice Bowls in the exhibit’s only video, featuring a harmonic succession of differing white bowls, each heaped with rice and accompanied by a single chime. Adrienne Moumin puts her Baby Shoes in Cage; Michael Hyman makes Pop Art with a crushed Coke can and a pristine Pepsi badge; and Alex Mayer installs a double-threaded screw in the business end of a pencil and screws the pencil into the gallery wall.

Two 3rd Order artists stand out in particular. Ruth Lozner demonstrates her respect for the readymade’s legacy in Autumn Landscape Somewhere, a piece that honors the “rectified” idea of using existent artworks to comment on art, like L.H.O.O.Q. Her brilliance lies in how she adds a “paint-by-numbers” template to partially mask her “Picture Craft Oil Painting” readymade’s stale fawns-in-nature cliché, setting up a subversive play between subject and object.

Travis Childers’ Stapleshirt displays his understanding of the visual power of juxtaposition, and also his obsessive adherence to repetition. A work of intellectual rigor and dexterous athleticism, this shirt is both homage to, as well as critique of, punk fashion and design. Further still, his readymade is a symbolic nod to two heroic Conceptual Art projects in the decades since Duchamp — On Kawara’s date paintings and Roman Opalka’s Infinity series — where both artists conceived Herculean tasks to devotionally pursue.


IMAGE: Travis Childers, Staple Shirt, 2012; white shirt, staples, gel medium; 23x32 inches; © Copyright by Travis Childers; photo by MCB.

GALLERY TALK: Join curator, Mark Cameron Boyd, for his talk about Readymade@100 this Saturday, 9/27, 4:00 - 5:00 pm; info & directions here.

September 19, 2014

"2nd Order Readymades" (Part 3)

These objects are presented with an “assist” or additional intervention by the artist. Some Duchampian scholars designate further categories of readymades “aided” or “rectified” but I view all three types as 2nd Order. Duchamp’s “assisted” readys are Bicycle Wheel and With Hidden Noise, while his “rectifieds” include Pharmacy and L.H.O.O.Q. Whether “assisted” or “rectified,” these works have minimal interventions that maintain the inherent object’s characteristic.

Benjamin Kelley’s untitled piece, easily recognizable as a bisected auto body, reflects the artist’s view of how quickly art moves “between the relic and modernity.”(1) The speed at which today’s “modern design” is fossilized by advances in technology is simply conveyed in Kelley’s precise bisection of a 1971 Chrysler Newport, its partially exhumed body transforming the museum into a reliquary. Adam Farcus’s unassuming flashlight bears the weight and mystery of its title, We go to bed, but we don’t sleep too hard, coupled with its unassuming placement on the gallery floor that disguises the fact that it’s “on” and suggests poetic resonance for us.

Another view of the “unique relationship between the ancient and the contemporary” is Persian Spring by Eric Parnes, a “squat toilet” with the signature of “R. Mutt” in Farsi, referencing the anonymous signature Duchamp inscribed on Fountain. Parnes explores what he calls “Neo-Orientalism™” – a term that the artist has trademarked – and proposes that today’s “delineations between the East and West are increasingly blurred, with the cardinal points both exporting and interpreting their respective societies.”(2) Thus, his adaptation and “transliteration” of Duchamp’s urinal melds conceptualism’s global thrust with a rejection of cultural racism.

Rex Weil’s object exhibits a delightful degree of irony and wit as he references both critical theory and Duchamp’s infamous defacement of the Mona Lisa postcard. His Readymade Readymade (double L.H.O.O.Q.) is a pair of L.H.O.O.Q. posters that he purchased on-line and then “re-defaced the defaced image.” Weil’s work engages the issue of originality via this “copy-of-a-copy,” while also reminding us that avant-garde art can be inevitably absorbed back into commodity status through the Spectacle’s practice of “recuperation.”(3)

The majority of 2nd order readys in Readymade@100 evolve with a simple “assist” from the artist. With reliable validation from the tried and true pedestal context, Frank Fishburne’s God mounts a motorcycle fork wrench to a base, Gary Orlinsky mounts a hand-turned Crank, Robert Braczyk mounts a Pike Pole Head, while Alexander Ney’s Intertwined wraps tangled LAN cable around a shaft. Other “assists” are more complex: Cody Arnall bolts two shovels together, a clever reference that mirrors Duchamp’s snow shovel; Chris Chernow’s balloons are popped, stretched, and nailed to the gallery wall; and Rodolphe Delaunay’s Delay props multi-colored candles in a corner, each one burnt down 8 minutes, 19 seconds—the amount of time it takes for the light of our sun to reach earth.

One mind-bending example of how far an artist can take the “assist” can be found in Jeanette May’s archival pigment print of a Fox, an off-the-shelf plush toy, discarded or dropped by its “owner.” Such an object’s absence from our physical site becomes ritually transfixed within May’s photo-limbo narrative, and its supposed plight is further enhanced by our anthropomorphic tendencies to provide this fox an identity as well as a “story.”


Top: Jeanette May, Morbidity & Mortality: Fox, 2013, archival pigment print, 24x36 inches; photo courtesy of the artist; © Copyright by Jeanette May.
Bottom: James Cole, Bidet, 2014, prefabricated plastic water gun, 18x6x5 inches; photo by MCB; © Copyright by James Cole. 


1. Quote from undated statement by Benjamin Kelley.

2. Quote from undated statement by Eric Parnes.

3. “Recuperation is the process in which subversive ideas and images are commodified and incorporated into the capitalist machine/mainstream society/ruling discourse. This is problematic in that it allows radical ideas and images to become commodified and therefore carry no subversive power. This relationship is exemplified especially with propaganda as well as with famous avant-garde artworks and their current mediation (think Duchamp). The spectacle’s power of recuperation remains something artists who are looking to challenge society will have a constant battle with.” Quote from Madison Killo; “The Spectacle’s Play With The Subversive;” March 27, 2012;