Have you ever found yourself walking through a gallery and been confronted by a shoe? A table? Or some other random object seemingly plucked out of everyday life and placed in the middle of a large white room? Are you left wondering how and why we are calling this art these days? We know it seems strange, but let us explain the revolutionary readymade.
The term readymade was first used by French artist Marcel Duchamp to describe the works of art he made from manufactured objects. It has since often been applied more generally to artworks by other artists made in this way. Duchamp’s most famous readymade was Fountain, a urinal he submitted to the 1917 exhibition of the Society of Independent Artists in New York, which he placed upside down on a plinth and signed with a pseudonym ‘R. Mutt’. The piece was rejected by the committee on the basis of obscenity, against the rules that anything could be submitted. Duchamp had the work photographed by the esteemed photographer and gallery owner Alfred Stieglitz, and the image was published in Blind Man with an article defending freedom of expression in the arts.
Although the term ready-made was invented by Duchamp to describe his own art, it has since been put on more generally to artworks made from manufactured objects. In example works by YBA artists Damien Hirst, Michael Landy and Tracey Emin, can be described as readymades.
There are three important points here:
First, that the choice of object is itself a creative act.
Secondly, that by cancelling the ‘useful’ function of an object it becomes Art.
Thirdly, that the presentation and the addition of a title to the object have given it ‘a new thought’, a new meaning.