Things to Stop Talking About: The Readymade

by Corinna Kirsch on February 24, 2011 · 47 comments Opinion

The one that started the trend - Marcel Duchamp's "Fountain."

The readymade needs to die, just like the term “white cube.” Both have become catch-all terms that lack any specific reference to their original source.  Discussions of the objet trouvé are relevant only if they refer to Duchamp’s Fountain (1917) or things that, like Fountain, were mass-produced and then, with very little mediation on the artist’s part, placed into an art context.  My problems with using the term “readymade” (in gallery press-releases, art historical writing, blog posts, etcetera):

  1. There’s no similarity between how the term is used today with either Duchamp’s intention or Fountain‘s infamous story. Readymades now refer to anything that wouldn’t immediately be thought of as art and then putting it in a gallery.
  2. Why are we still determining whether or not something is art or non-art? I don’t see anything at stake with this conversation in current practice. The use of non-art objects in art has become such a standard practice that any conversation about the shocking relevancy of the readymade would make you seem like you’ve been asleep for half a century.

Two main groups like to drop the readymade bomb—galleries and art historians. Galleries love to drop the Duchamp brand because dealers can try to convince clients of an artist’s worth just by mentioning the mouthwatering response readymade. Most Art Historians aren’t  interested in what artists are making in Bushwick studios, most of whom rarely wake up with Duchamp on the brain.

I was on the train this morning, reading one of my roommates’ books, Art Historian and critic Donald Kuspit’s The End of Art (2004). I’m so over discussions about the end of art, especially ones published within the 21st century because it’s so late in the conversation. The following passage made me so angry that I began audibly grumbling to myself on the train:

Clearly the readymade has a double meaning…a Gordian knot that no intellectual sword can cut.  Simultaneously an art and non-art object, the readymade has no fixed identity. Regarded as art, it spontaneously reverts to non-art….The readymade always outsmarts the spectator, outwitting his interpretation of it, suggesting that it has no social value. It is absurd and tasteless—beyond good and bad taste because it is absurd.

My main problem with Kuspit’s writing on the readymade? His version of the readymade is so unspecific that he could have said any number of things.

Let’s substitute the word “readymade” for “painting” or “Internet”:

Clearly the painting has a double meaning. Simultaneously an art and non-art object, the painting has no fixed identity.

Clearly the Internet has a double meaning. Simultaneously an art and non-art object, the Internet has no fixed identity.

Paintings are physical things in-the-world, but they also exist as ephemeral images on Tumblrs, gallery websites, and blogs.  The Internet, too, is a physical thing at the same time it exists as an almost invisible mediator.  A thing, existing as an image, is in constant circulation from one state to another. Kuspit and his discussion of the readymade is so black-and-white and doesn’t allow any room for context to influence whether we consider something art or not.

The next time you read a review, press release, or essay  that references the readymade, feel free to have them contact me directly — or at least send them this post.


Nick Cueva February 24, 2011 at 8:02 pm

Frankly after Josef Albers, even paint is considered a ready-made. I agree that it is being spun around now mostly to solidify art historical context, but understand because most people are behind on the times.

I would actually tend to agree with Kuspit, but would change the tone. I would agree that it is absurd, but art at it’s best is a special kind of absurd. As soon as we make room in our minds for more absurdity, art tends to open up.

Mark P Hensel February 24, 2011 at 8:03 pm

Not to mention that his description of the readymade as “always outsmart[ing] the spectator” is pretty elitist. I think most people can figure it out. There are plenty of things in the world that people deal with on a regular basis that fall into more than one category.

Stvc March 1, 2011 at 8:40 am

Elitist? Yuh think? …couldn’t agree more.

Very very few people will encounter the term, and of those who do, even fewer will give it that much thought. It’s a useful historical reference, not much more or less. M.Ds ideas remain relevant. Much of this conversation strikes me as masturbational; trolling for big pseudointelectual fish. I’m not sure the term’s meaning as such ever carried much weight. It’s a cairn; common rocks arranged to mark an important trail. I’ll continue to use it to good effect.

Steve Ruiz February 24, 2011 at 8:30 pm

When I hear the word readymade, I first think of a Vintage-style, DIY magazine with project ideas for turning everyday objects into home decor or wearable art. No better way to cap a critical line than having its central term co-opted by glossy alt-consumerism and delivered by the same corporation that owns Ladies’ Home Journal.

Anonymous February 25, 2011 at 1:43 pm

Yes! I hadn’t thought about that example, but that’s a good one: When your term of choice has gone through so many transformations that it’s now the title of a somewhat hip magazine (less hip than it was in the 90s – it’s very Portland), it’s time to find something more biting and critical.

Dear “Readymade,” if you put a bird on it, it isn’t a readymade!

Amanda B. February 25, 2011 at 2:46 am

I totally agree, the term is passé and has no place in any contemporary lexicon. Thanks for the great post, Corinna!

Zanderlassen February 25, 2011 at 6:34 am

Good point, I agree. I hear artists (Koons and Pruitt) drop the term more often than critics or historians.

Mark G. Taber February 25, 2011 at 1:31 pm

Paddy, I’m glad to see you’re taking on this issue. The way I see it The Fountain embodies a deep issue that has been around for a long time. The only surprising thing is that it took so long for a work of art to emerge that expresses the issue. Basically, the issue is that the world is meaningless until a thinker comes along to give it meaning. The term ‘art’ is handy because it is so flexible, we can attache it to anything to give meaning to an indifferent meaningless universe. The readymade won’t disappear until a new cosmology emerges.

Corinna Kirsch February 25, 2011 at 9:49 pm

Yes, I rarely ever hear people referring to acrylic paintings as having a “readymade structure of paint.”

I like absurdity, too, but Kuspit tends to think of the absurd as a negative quality. I’m into anything – absurd or otherwise – that can allow for that same “opening up” that you describe.

So what do you think are some other overwrought terms, maybe those specific to studio visits and crits, that need to die?

UttR. February 25, 2011 at 10:27 pm

there are no clear boundaries between marketing, production and consumption. what adapts to the environment will survive. changes in meaning are a normal part of the churning. haven’t linguists long ago determined that it is reactionary to demand a particular meaning of words?

more importantly (and i agree with another post), the question about art versus non-art relates to deep questions about performance, perception, utility, value, meaning, and so on. the question we should hope will persist, as it is the hallmark of a terrain not utterly flattened and homogenized.

you speak of “the use of non-art objects in art.” the use of non-what? in what? the business of codification is a loathsome one, but that does not mean that assumptions are not there. these will naturally be subject to questioning, reinventing, expanding, evolving. doesn’t the readymade signify this process quintessentially? and thus is it not bound to always rear its head in new forms?

Corinna Kirsch February 26, 2011 at 4:50 pm

I stated above in response to Maderanariz that I have no problem with the term readymade as gaining different meanings since 1917. My problem is that the term “readymade” doesn’t mean anything important anymore.

UttR. February 26, 2011 at 10:20 pm

I speak from limited experience, as I am an art lover, not in the world art (so to speak). thus i’m probably not as inundated with fatuous and watered down terminology. all the same, i remain (probably ignorantly) unconvinced.

from where i sit, the term still has a great deal of relevance, particularly from a sociological point of view, or better yet, from a leftist point of view. that is, the readymade not only calls into question the boundaries and ambiguities between art and non art, but highlights aspects of workers’ oppression via the division of labor between skilled and unskilled craft. with the readymade’s “reskilling,” you have “the emancipatory content of Duchamp…the intrusion of artistic subjectivity into simple labour.” with this, concepts of expanded and collective authorship come into play.

fine, that’s Duschamp, et al., of old. but that’s been done, end of story, one might say. however, as a technique, and as a reference point, it remains relevant precisely because its message, the questions and social relations it addresses still hold very true.

have you seen John Roberts’ discussion of the readymade? while he talks about it in its heyday, i think the basic observations and theory that emerge are important and applicable contemporarily. whether artists want or are able to apply the technique of the readymade creatively and interestingly is another matter–but should the possibility be dismissed and the concept utterly banished from discussion? that suggestion seems to be more the product of (likely totally justifiable) annoyance than serious consideration.

Biobebop February 27, 2011 at 3:52 am

I agree with your leftist politics in a general way, but your imagining of the readymade as an apparent condemnation of exploited labor and related issues would demand qualification beyond simply saying “readymade.” By all means use it liberally if it suits you, but you would have to explain yourself time and again.
Moreover, grafting the idea of “collective authorship” to the readymade really won’t take either, since the readymade really derives its cachet from the aesthetic fiat of the artist to select, rather than make, art. For instance, whatever lefty discussion one might have about Ai Weiwei’s Forever bicycles, it will ultimately come back to Ai’s charismatic derring-do (or whatever you may think). Your aims are better served by a direct appreciation of industrially-produced objects and a critique of the manufacturing conditions themselves.

Maderanariz February 26, 2011 at 12:46 am

You are right on point number 2. Your point 1 denies the evolution of the term that has happened over the century. Also, press releases and 2nd rate art historians are indeed crap, anyone with half a brain knows that.

Corinna Kirsch February 26, 2011 at 4:45 pm

My problem with the continued use of the term readymade is not a problem with allowing words to change meaning over time. I have a problem with using the term readymade in art because it has become so non-specific that it has no relevance anymore. If I were to describe a sculpture I made to you as a readymade, I don’t think that you would have a “eureka” moment or even agree that I’m making relevant work as an artist.

I disagree that press releases are written by idiots and I do like art historians.

Ncparisi February 26, 2011 at 1:18 am

Internet physical?

yes, a cloudy mediator of the physical but not physical. I enjoyed the hearing the term “mediator” as referred to the internet, something id felt on my tongue.

The “internet object” is its own thing. And, the physical object is its own thing. Images on websites are not necessarily internet objects but, most-times, references to objects in the physical world. These are two points that will never touch, though the line will blurred very convincingly.

The internet object is site specific (living virtually) and reliant on ‘virtual nature’.

thanks for the thoughtful article

Randles February 26, 2011 at 3:02 am

I don’t know if readymades themselves need to die, but I agree that the abuse of the term is slightly maddening.

Yes, paint can be used as a readymade. However, there is clearly a difference between a painting where the particularities of the substance itself is not meant as the subject of the piece (non-self-referential paintings do still exist), and a new vacuum cleaner.

A rock is not a readymade. Can it be used in art? Sure. And if the work is about the rock’s rockiness? Still not a readymade. Found object, yes. Readymade, no.

Perhaps I’m barking up the wrong urinal. Are there any specific offenders that come to mind?

Corinna Kirsch February 26, 2011 at 4:39 pm

Can we just come up with a better term to use than readymade? I think readymade is probably used more often in conversation than in writing.

Specific offenders? I mean, Kuspit is kind of a weak target – I don’t think he reads Art Fag City. Specific offenders in terms of artists? I would need to scour through a stack of artist statements and press releases. Regardless of the offender, I just don’t see that a continued exploration of the readymade is relevant to contemporary practice – there’s nothing at stake. I once had a professor who called this the “And…So what?” moment. OK, maybe you’re a painter and you’re talking about your work in terms of the readymade, but then, where do you go after that statement?

Looking through the “Artforum” archives online, I only found (and this, according to the magazine’s search engine) 8 examples of the word readymade. Maybe the problem isn’t as rampant in a certain type of criticism. Joan Kee brought up the readymade as a negative quality when writing about Haegue Yang at the Walker Art Center in the April 2010 issue: “Among the least successful of Yang’s works, this literal series takes too much to heart the proposition of the monochrome as readymade.”

There’s nothing interesting about discussing the monochrome as a readymade right now. And maybe the painters will come after me for that point…

Namirha February 26, 2011 at 5:49 pm

Computer Mirror Image: “THE BLUE BUTTERFLY IS 33YO NOW”

Marcel Duchamp: Nude Descending a Staircase No 2

Watch video

Biobebop February 26, 2011 at 8:42 pm

I think you’re right that the catchall term “readymade” should wither away, even if it is a handy conversational term. Tagging a piece of art with the term is a pat, ready-made strategy to recognize Duchamp as an honored forebear for the next big iconoclastic (read: cheap now!) artist.
I agree that words can change meaning over time; compare Greenberg’s sense of kitsch to how we understand/use that word today. Or Sontag’s formulation of camp for that matter.
That the term readymeade means nothing important today is as much a matter of overuse as its distinct inability to convey the political and social commentary that is de rigueur today in the use of commonplace objects in art. How to reapply a word or coin a pithy portmanteau that would have that type of broad meaning would be difficult.
Kuspit is right only in describing the whole business as a Gordian knot. Maybe to preemptively include the canned (I really want to say readymade again) trope of art/non-art into a new term is the way out. I submit that a pompously ouroborosic doubling might be in order: “readymade readymade.” Or not.
It’s all art, only matters whether it’s any good.

side note:
Rather than shocking the bourgeoisie as in Kuspit’s ” absurd and tasteless” art-object paradox, I feel Duchamp was interested more in engendering a discussion that would constantly return to something like your teacher’s question “and so…what?”
On the other hand, Duchamp was tight lipped or simply evasive about what he meant about anything. He did say “criticism is onanism,” even though his entire oeuvre is one big question mark. If he were still alive, I think he would be amused by it all, then return twinkly-eyed to his Brancusi chess set.

Nathaniel Stern February 27, 2011 at 1:41 pm

Perhaps the argument is against its use in the everyday, where it’s kind of dead as meaningful? Or maybe it never _was_ meaningful in its every day use. But I do think it still has value in its specificity, if defined in context. I feel the same way about “performative” and “deconstruct.” It irks me when any of the three terms are misused or thrown out to add value when there is none, and I often advocate that artists should simply avoid them. But there again, I teach them as concepts and strategies, and revel in how smart they can be as if explored in interesting ways…. (Full disclosure: I am running a panel called “Restaging the Readymade at the next CAA in LA, 2012. I’ve decided against pasting the abstract into my comment.)

Corinna Kirsch February 27, 2011 at 6:52 pm

I think you’ve hit this one on point. “Performative,” “deconstruct,” and I will add “rhizomatic” are just as ugly when used out of place. As I replied to Eli’s comment above, it’s not that I hate the term readymade, but it could become meaningful and rigorous in written or verbal discussions again, if applied appropriately. I think that the readymade’s relationship to labor is probably the most fruitful discussion to reapply this concept. Although I wouldn’t mind banishing the “readymade” from use for a while.

I’m excited about “Restaging the Readymade”! I read the description of John Roberts’ “The Intangibilities of Form: Skill and Deskilling in Art after the Readymade” and I’m definitely intrigued.

Eli H. February 27, 2011 at 10:26 pm

I love the John Roberts book. The whole idea of a labor theory of the readymade is very useful. Also, in response to the idea of restaging, I think this is truly the legacy of Duchamp–having forced people like Kosuth and Paik to try to invent “escapes,” with interesting results. One problem I think, and actual cause for hostility was that the readymade is a dead-end, leaving no place to go really, but infinitely restage it (something Krauss and Buchloh have written about). The thing is, we shouldn’t be thinking about art as some kind of teleological evolutionary form which is constantly shedding impurities and driving towards a singular destination. The readymade can just be what it is, a fascinating interesting moment. It does not have to become the stumbling block which every artist must reconcile with.

Nathaniel Stern February 28, 2011 at 1:27 pm

Hi Eli, hi Corinna:
Thanks for the great feedback! I think we’re all mostly on the same page here.
CAA is the College Art Association, which was just in NYC and in is in LA next year.
The premise of the panel is to revisit Duchamp’s notion of the “rendezvous” in the digital age. I had imagined mostly looking at “things” such as Internet space, the body, code and data as meeting places ripe with possibility. But I think the question of labor could also add greatly to a fruitful discussion. I’ve not finalized the panelists just yet – in fact, it’s an “open form” session, which can include talks, provocations, art objects, performance, multimedia, etc. If either of you are interested in joining (warning: there is no funding available at all), email me and we can talk about possibilities! I’m reachable via
– n

Eli H. February 27, 2011 at 10:28 pm

What is CAA? This sounds like an interesting panel. Are you looking for submissions? I’m doing a lot of writing on readymades in experimental film and video art and would be interested in hearing more about this…

Eli H. February 27, 2011 at 5:53 pm

Seriously disagree with the argument that the readymade no longer has relevance or needs to be discussed, BUT seriously agree that Kuspit is a boring snoodler.

To clarify:

1) The readymade has been reductively understood for its use of nominalism or selection of existing “non-art” objects. BUT, this is only one component of Duchamp’s strategy. He was also interested in using language (through his punny inscriptions) as a medium in art and interested in identifying and challenging fundamental orthodoxies which ruled the modernist art movement at the time (i.e. the use of the artists’ hand in the labor of creation, the use of some plastic medium, etc).

2) Perhaps the most important contribution of M.D. was his interest in moving art away from its state as a purely visual (or retinal in his words) experience. He did this by electing quotidian objects which supposedly hold little visual interest and are more or less selected indifferently (though this itself has some problems).

3) The readymade IS NOT a found object as Kuspit repeatedly asserts (see pg. 81). Found objects in the surrealist tradition were a misunderstanding of Duchamp and sought to aestheticize objects from the everyday. MD was not trying to aestheticize non-art objects, he was trying to force people to think about what constitutes an act of artistic labour (could it be done purely with the mind, conceptually, and with little to no intervention from the artists hand). Furthermore it was about whether CALLING something art made it art (turns out it does).

Also, I think you’ll notice throughout the book he is seriously hostile to MD and the readymade, despite some ambiguity in the passage you read. He is making the argument that the readymade is a nihilistic/pessimistic mockery of the artist process.

So why would people continuing to talk about and having a real grasp on the readymade be beneficial? Because MD’s strategy was to create works which ask questions about all of the accepted premises of what art could/should be. People throw the word “radical” around today whenever someone makes the most inane reference to activism in their art. Approaching something in a radical way actually refers to “getting to the root” of it — that is what MD did.

Corinna Kirsch February 27, 2011 at 6:39 pm

I’m glad that this post has brought up discussion. Does the readymade have traction in current art practice? No, but I think that what you, Nathaniel, and others have mentioned about how it could be reinterpreted makes me hopeful.

Kuspit wasn’t fond of the readymade because, in his argument, it removed an aesthetic dimsnsion to art. I would like to find a way to describe a deskilled art practice, whether that involves just filling a room with empty coffee mugs and broken clocks (Stephen G. Rhodes’ current show at Metro Pictures), that allows for aesthetic (and emotional) experiences.

Part of the “Fountain” story is that by signing his name onto the urinal, Duchamp transformed it into an art object. He breathed life into this object just by a little bit of ink – that’s still important today. February 28, 2011 at 4:07 pm

But he didn’t sign his name; he signed the name of a fictitious unknown, R. Mutt. Or so we’re told.

I’m late to the discussion here, but it seems like what’s irking you is the uninformed, reflexive, pretentious overuse of the term for purposes of self-justification and marketing, without regard for its actual historical or critical context. In that case, it’s an example of embarrassing artspeak. Reminds me of Rob Storr’s column in Frieze last year about wincing whenever he hears artists use the terms practice and praxis interchangeably.

So yeah, readymades were a real thing, and they provoked responses and dialogue and works from generations of artists and critics afterward, and maybe their ability to provoke or challenge has worn off. Even if you find you still have to go back to bicycle wheels and urinals to explain contemporary art your skeptical uncle at Thanksgiving.

But the irony of misunderstanding readymades is the degree to which the entire history of the concept is dependent on mediation and transmission. The actual facts and objects and primary documents of Duchamp’s readymades turn out to be vague, contradictory, missing, fabricated, or just non-existent. Whatever we know or think we know or discussed or learned about readymades turns out to be little more than an art world game of telephone. Whether that matters, and what we do about it are separate questions, but at least it may help explain how we ended up in such an annoying readymade situation.

Corinna Kirsch February 28, 2011 at 8:08 pm

“Artspeak” is the best way to describe the symptoms of the readymade and even, as Storr mentioned, the obnoxiuous waste of mingling praxis with practice.

I find your Thanksgiving analogy useful because in situations, namely familial ones when I have to explain my crazy life in the arts and why I’m not settling down in the suburbs, I often have to go back to Modern art (and Duchamp) in order to explain the beginnings of contemporary and current practice.

And of course, the readymade, like any historical notion, is “shot through with holes,” with multiple, contradictory stories.

Now I feel like there are two main questions driving the “annoying readymade situation”:

1) Do we rehistoricize the readymade? From the commentary so far, it appears that there are many driving forces behind “fountain’s” importance – whether it was the naming of an object as art that made it art or the deskilling of labor that this work initiated in art practice-at-large.

2) Do we use it now? And if so, how?

john dale February 28, 2011 at 1:28 pm

The Fountain seems to have fooled u. There have been shifts in the scholarship on The Case of R.Mutt, the publicity event in which the second Blind Man issue was embedded. What evidence do u have that the urinal shown is a ready made? We have only the photograph, no negatives survive except a negative of the upper half, suggesting the photo is a composite, as Duchamp apparently was indebted to trick photography (Shearer, Tout Fait). The ‘original’ object does not survive, nor can a close facsimile be located in surviving plumbing fixture catalogues, suggesting Duchamp could have molded his own or had help from his sculpture brother, who was facile with molds being a bronze caster. Thus, there is no evidence the urinal shown was mass produced. It might be an one of a kind work of art, wouldn’t that be a hoot. His shopping purchase is all hearsay, and Duchamp mentions nothing in his notes about shopping, mass reproduction, mass media, commodity exchange. The painting behind, and why that painting was chosen is a debated, is Marsden Hartley’s The Warriors, adding a WWI theme, giving a variated background to hide context, and suggesting an array of queered motivations, since Hartley was homosexual and public bathrooms were liminal hot spots, nicely covered by Paul Franklin in Object Choice in the Oxford Journal. Given Duchamp’s knowledge and use of photography, Man Ray’s and Edward Steichen’s presence, there is even speculation Stieglitz is not the only photographer involved. At any rate, I hate to say, but y’all might be trafficking on a notion of ready made, that does not apply to the Fountain due to its involvement in the Society of Independent Artists exhibit in April of 1917.

Kuspit has been writing for years and I still don’t know what he stands for, in one article he’s a Jameson/Baudrillardian commodity semiotician, the next a phenomenologist, the next a Freudian and so on. Don’t know y u would read him, same old sexist Modernism.

Greg Petliski December 27, 2012 at 9:06 pm

Keyword: MIGHT BE. It might be a work of unique art. But based on the man who “created” so many of these “readymades” Im inclined not to believe you.

sheri pasquarella February 28, 2011 at 5:41 pm

Interesting conversation. It’s funny that I have had very similar thoughts of late BUT with a major difference: an internal dialogue, spoken perhaps just in passing with a couple of artists, with a near-verbatim position on the word APPROPRIATION. Obviously ‘readymade’ and ‘appropriation’ are so linked as on might argue them indivisible, the primary dstinction being between context/association: ‘readymade’ is clearly intended to evoke Duchamp and the first half of the 20th Century, ‘appropriation’ most often used to make a link to postmodernism, chiefly to Warhol and then Prince, Levine, and Koons (this is especially true in the private/public sphere, perhaps less so in art history..but I’m not sure, maybe this even holds up there as well). I find ‘appropriation’ as tired and self-evident (and therefore, somewhat divested of actual meaning) as you do ‘readymade’: does a trope as obvious and regularly deployed really require further articulation at this point? Can’t we all see what it is and get on with it?

While I deeply commiserate with your general argument, I diverge on the topic of ‘The End of Art.’ Perhaps this is some what in part due to the fact that Kuspit was my thesis advisor, and thus I have profound respect for him. But the entirety of the book (as well as ideas that were rife in his thoughts and lectures when I studied with him, in the early-mid 1990s) was less a reconsideration of the work of Duchamp, and more a critique on Damien Hirst and artists working in the 1990s – hence the timing of the book. I think this is an important note to point out when presenting excerpts from the text, as not doing so is to alter its context & point entirely.

Incidentally, just before ‘The End of Art’ came out, I recall Barbara Rose telling me that not only did she support the point of the book, that moreover she was planning to write something similar of her own (did this ever happen??); I’d also anecdotally heard that Michael Fried shared this view to some extent as well. I hope that I am not speaking out of turn or misrepresenting these individuals…but I bring it up because of deeper relevance to the conversation at hand: Kuspit, Rose, Fried and a handful of other art historians who ascended in the 1960s were somewhat displaced in the following decade by the critical theorists, especially in America (R. Kraus, B. Bucholoh, Hal Foster and others). Among the considerations favored by this group is a capacious attention to context, particularly with regards to socioeconomics and the self. [I realize that I am oversimplifying the history of art history in the 20th century drastically…seems like this is all that needs to be said here] Indeed, as this ‘October’ group held (still holds-?) court, the more or less object-based historians mentioned above fell out of fashion. Thus, ‘End of Art’ may be taken not only as an assessment of art of the end of the 20th century, but a rebuttal of sorts to the hierarchy of critical theory, in asking: so where has this taken us, and are the objects of the late 20th century – when taken less as a confluence of context and more as art objects – really advancing anything more than the artists of the early 20th century already did?

And I think that question brings us full circle to your ideas.

Peterdobey February 28, 2011 at 7:43 pm

Corinna you are missing out on the fundamental nature of the readiness for which kuspit and other theorists working in the realm of aesthetics make. You can not compare a pairing or the Internet to a readymade. They both occupy the ontological extremes for which the readymade is the intermediary. A painting is an aesthetic object. The Internet, a practical tool, would be considered “banal” in the sense that it is an object of function. The Essence of the ready made is not it’s physical existence but that it made the aestheticout of the banal, therefore making all things aesthetic banal- ontologically atleast. This is the end of art being spoken of.

Peter dobey

Eli H. March 1, 2011 at 2:11 pm

No, you’ve performed the exact same misreading that Kuspit has. Duchamp was absolutely not interested in aestheticizing the banal, though he was keenly aware that his strategy had the ancillary effect of using quotidian “non-art” objects in institutional settings.

M.D. was not trying to aestheticize anything and that was the point. Recently Dalia Judovitz has pointed out (in her 2010 book) that MD was deeply concerned with the consumptive gaze of the individual looking through the shop-window, and how vision was being used to manufacture desire for consumption. This phenomena is truly part of the turn of the century (round-abouts the time MD comes up with the readymade). He was interested in creating art objects which were visually uninteresting, forcing the spectator to think about them on an “ideatic” (as he called it) or conceptual level. This has two effects: 1) To force people to think about art rather than simply view it with the same consumptive gaze that they would looking through a shop window and 2) (and this is far less obvious/provable) he may have been interested in imbuing his work with a certain didactic quality, which trains consumers to contemplate the objects they purchase (the same way they do the art objects he has “readymade” (using it as a verb here).

Peterdobey February 28, 2011 at 8:09 pm

Although I agree the term needs to be done away with since I would Argue that the only true readymade was the fountain.

Dain Quentin Gore March 1, 2011 at 7:40 am

“Not everything is art, but everything is art supplies” ~Lew Alquist

Eli H. March 1, 2011 at 2:03 pm

really? why? what about Trebuchet and In Advance of the Broken Arm? What about Fountain is so unique from these?

Betsyalwin March 1, 2011 at 2:56 pm

I agree that the term “Readymade” is anachronistic because we can no longer experience the manufactured object-turned-art-object as the deconstruction of a sculpture. This, above all things, makes me sad. I feel that it has been adopted into the general language of art (as well as the market of art), therefore actually limiting our experience in some way. It can be said that we accept the answer without knowing fully the question that Duchamp posed. How can we? After all, when we see a “readymade,” we will always refer back to Duchamp and understand it in historical and critical terms that precede it. That said, the idea of everyday objects as creators of meaning persists and has evolved in so many different ways so as to solidify the belief in the art object. There are plenty of objects in the world to be seen in new, surprising and even unexpected ways; they will never be original readymades.

Want something more savage, more brutal? (ha ha)

Corinna Kirsch March 1, 2011 at 4:56 pm

I definitely think there’s a desire in contemporary art now to have an intimate experience with art, reflecting what you said about seeing objects in “new, surprising and even unexpected ways”.

Also, I’m glad that this discussion isn’t a total “boys club.” What, since when is the readymade a stereotypically masculine topic?

Elizabeth Daggar March 1, 2011 at 4:46 pm

This is an interesting discussion for many reasons– I love it.

At least part of what we understand (or think we do) about Duchamp’s “readymades” involves the basic Dada tenet rejecting art theory and convention. It was an anti-art [establishment] assertion that “Art” could be designated as such –or not!– only by its creator, not by passive critics or viewers. The rejection of this idea was assumed, and all the better to point out the absurdity of the very questions “Is it Art?” or “Does it have merit?”. In that sense, considerations such as skilled vs. de-skilled, etc are academic and beside the point.

At the heart of both “readymades” and “found object”-based works lies the idea of recontextualization. The difference, being _somewhat_ subtle, is, I believe, what eludes many who conflate the terms.

Picasso incorporated “readymade” objects in sculptural works– but Picasso recontextualized objects by transforming them into something else entirely. One didn’t see the parts, but the sum of the parts– only later did one notice that he’s welded this and that common object into a new and unrelated form.

Whereas Duchamp merely recontextualized the expectations of the objects– he did not turn a bicycle part into a bull– he simply placed it in a new context, rendering it senseless; impotent in its intended use. (This holds true whether he made his own casting of a urinal or bought a manufactured one. Again, not the point.)

So most of the pieces referred to as readymades could more accurately be called recontextualizations, more generic, and able to easily cover a wide array– upcyclings, appropriations, etc. (Although I tend to think of ‘appropriating’ as something more akin to sampling; one appropriates another’s imagery or ideas more than, say, a pair of shoe forms.)

As for an End of Art– there can be no such thing, only an end of conventions surrounding it, which are ever changing.

rinaldo March 1, 2011 at 6:27 pm

The readymade is the least of the problems with the art world, just think about all of
the absolutely indecipherable art that is exhibited in many of the hyped up galleries.
And has anyone ever read (or accepted the bull shit), that is written about it.
By the way…does a readymade suit also fit into this category ?

Jennifer Chan March 2, 2011 at 6:00 am

Much ado about a fountain.

“Oh shit this theory’s beaten to death; fuck art history.”
“Oh shit she spells internet with a capital I?! That’s soo not internet-aware.”

Corinna Kirsch March 13, 2011 at 4:48 pm

Sorry about the “i”, but I can’t say “fuck” to art history when we’re stuck with it. When Duchamp and the readymade are name-dropped in a handful of conversations I hear every single week, I can’t just ignore the ubiquity of the situation.

Jennifer Chan March 2, 2011 at 6:02 am

and don’t forget the alreadymade, the yet-to-be-made, and the always already unmade, according to my professor of visual culture John Ricco. 😉

Greg Petliski December 27, 2012 at 9:04 pm

Its all crap. If you didnt make it, it aint yours. Youre just passing it off. I can go around telling people I CHOSE to display a Maserati, but that doesnt mean I had anything to do with its creation.

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