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;    

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