May 28, 2014

A Teachable Moment

In about two weeks the open call for submissions of “new readymades” for our “Readymade@100” exhibition will close. Submissions received thus far have run the gamut from highly conceptualized “actions” and constructed assemblage, to definitive commodity objects wrenched from their “shelf life.” We have also received a handful of inquiries on our selection criteria as well as our intentions in mounting a “Centennial Celebration” of Marcel Duchamp’s readymade, as first used in 1914.(1)

My recent research visit to the Norton Simon Museum yielded a bounty of valuable background and information on the museum’s 1963 Duchamp retrospective, “by or of Marcel Duchamp or Rrose Selavy,”(2) that has only reinforced my original intentions for this exhibition: to approach the continued relevance and influence of the readymade as "a teachable moment."

One revelation of our visit to Norton Simon, and our perusal of their Duchamp archive which is actually only a large box of correspondence, photographs and ephemera, was that this ’63 retro was Duchamp’s only American institutional recognition in his lifetime. Moreover, the retro’s opening was attended by West Coast art elites, including Ed Ruscha, Billy Al Bengston, Craig Kaufman, Larry Bell and Dennis Hopper, and even Andy Warhol.(3) This was the show where American artists were fully introduced to Duchamp’s oeuvre, with 114 objects ranging from The Large Glass (1915-1923) to a Fountain replica (1963). Of particular interest to me, and the reason for my own cross-country trip, were the readymades present on that occasion: a total of 13.

The necessity of addressing the legacy of the readymade, as well as determining its "definition" among its many variations, has never been more abundantly clear to me. In my preliminary review of the "new readymades" I have begun to grasp how the collective and continuing understanding of Duchamp's original idea has been respectfully copied, brazenly ignored, but always indelibly transformed by contemporary artists. Thus, I hope to conceive my "Readymade@100" exhibition essay as a pedagogical appraisal of the multiple trajectories this marvelous, contrary and yet liberating concept has taken in the 21st Century.

To that end, let me address two specific comments that were posted on my "Always Alreadymade" essay of April 18:          

First, in answer to the person who requested that I post "samples" of both readymades and "found objects," I shall not be posting examples of readymades or "found objects" on this site. As a curator, this would be tantamount to a prescription of what kind of submissions artists ought to present. At the very least, this would be disastrous to the intention of this show.

Secondly, someone had suggested that my "Always Alreadymade" post evoked a distinction "without a difference" and because "it is an unconscious dynamic that compels the finding of the found object, then, to most disciples of the psychoanalytic, it is an equally unconscious thought that compels the selection of the readymade."
As I wrote in April, "readymades must be found first but let us be clear: it was Marcel Duchamp who definitively established the manufactured, mass-produced, commodity object as a readymade." My intent was to place emphasis on Duchamp's choice of the manufactured as exemplary of the disruption of the mass-produced object's "use" and its transformation through context. Furthermore, the search for a definitive "difference" gets ever more complex when we consider what Duchamp said about his choices:
"A point that I want very much to establish is that the choice of these 'Readymades' was never dictated by aesthetic delectation. The choice was based on a reaction of visual indifference with at the same time a total absence of good or bad taste ... in fact a complete anesthesia."(4)
I can only hope that my own selection of "new readymades" for our show will be as well-disciplined and as complete an "anesthesia." As for my "academic niggling," I am guilty, as charged. It is the continuous give-and-take of discourse, and the assertion and counter-assertion of argument, that will compel us to a position of understanding. It is my fervent hope that this exhibition and my curatorial guidance will open a dialogue on the readymade and its various manifestations, whether "authentic," or misguided, but "always already" transformative.   


1. Duchamp first used the word in reference to Bottle Rack (1914).

2. The museum was known then as the Pasadena Art Museum and located at 46 N. Los Robles Avenue in a Chinese-styled mansion.

3. Drohojowska-Philp, Hunter. Rebels in Paradise: The Los Angeles Art Scene and the 1960s, New york, 2011, 10-11. 
4. Duchamp, Marcel. "Apropos of Readymades," talk given at Museum of Modern Art, New York, October 19, 1961. 


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