Readymades, Found Objects, and Assemblages


A material thing. Something to which attention, feeling, thought, or action is directed, therefore usually conceived as subhuman, unreflective and passive, in contrast to the active subject.  

When you look at an object, you are seeing more than just the thing itself: you are seeing the relation between the thing and yourself. Some objects are made to be looked upon. 

The practice and ideology of image-ownership showed beginnings in 17th century Western Europe oil-painting, when the spectator-owner commissioned the painter to make the likeness of something. 


manray-Violon d'Ingres.jpg (290007 bytes) Man Ray, Violin d'Ingres, photo-montage, 1924 13_vv_warhol_marilyn.jpg (57270 bytes) Andy Warhol Marilyn 1967


Readymades are objects manufactured for some other purpose, presented by an artist as a work of art.

Between 1914 and 1921, Marcel Duchamp (French, 1887-1968), who originated this concept, selected and signed, among others, a snow shovel, a comb, and a urinal. He occasionally altered readymades (sometimes called assisted readymades) -- the most famous of which was a cheap reproduction of Mona Lisa on which Duchamp drew a mustache.

 duchamp_bicycle_wheel.jpg (132345 bytes)

Marcel Duchamp, Bicycle Wheel, 1913 / 1964, metal, painted wood, 126.5 x 31.5 x 63.5 cm, Georges Pompidou Center, Paris.

"In 1913 I had the happy idea to fasten a bicycle wheel to a kitchen stool and watch it turn." - Duchamp, Apropos of Readymades, 1951

Actually made prior to the artist's coining the term, this Readymade is commonly termed the first of Duchamp's Readymades. Duchamp himself has confirmed this claim, but also glories in the inherent contradiction of such a designation. The piece was made when the idea of the Readymade had not been fully developed and yet, as a result of being called "No.1" in the long line of Readymades, it has received as much (if not more) attention than later, more clearly established Readymades. 

"The Bicycle Wheel is my first Readymade, so much so that at first it wasn't even called a Readymade. It still had little to do with the idea of the Readymade. Rather it had more to do with the idea of chance. In a way, it was simply letting things go by themselves and having a sort of created atmosphere in a studio, an apartment where you live. Probably, to help your ideas come out of your head. To set the wheel turning was very soothing, very comforting, a sort of opening of avenues on other things than material life of every day. I liked the idea of having a bicycle wheel in my studio. I enjoyed looking at it, just as I enjoyed looking at the flames dancing in a fireplace. It was like having a fireplace in my studio, the movement of the wheel reminded me of the movement of flames".

 "Please note that I didn't want to make a work of art out of [Bicycle Wheel]. The word 'Readymade' did not appear until 1915, when I went to the United States. It was an interesting word, but when I put a bicycle wheel on a stool, the fork down, there was no idea of a 'readymade,' or anything else. It was just a distraction. I didn't have any special reason to do it, or any intention of showing it, or describing anything. No nothing like that...".

And so the Bicycle Wheel was not intended to be a remarkable piece of art, but rather a personal experiment. However, just because the initial idea behind it wasn't art-oriented doesn't mean that Duchamp didn't whole-heartedly embrace the wonderful uproar and contradictions it later acquired when becoming designated as art.

This Readymade embodies Duchamp's interest in kinetic energy. It incorporates two simultaneous actions: the wheel on its own axis and the fork spinning in the stool. It begs to be spun. This pointless rotary movement of the wheel has been compared by Duchamp to sexual action, the game of chess, and the flames in a fireplace.... all related to his interest in pointless motion; they all move constantly, but essentially remain rooted in the same place. 











Original Version:

Nov. 1915, New York
wood and galvanized-iron
American snow shovel
no dimensions recorded






duchamp22.jpg (13432 bytes)


"I have a show shovel upon which I have written on the bottom, In Advance of a Broken Arm. Don't try too hard to understand it in the Romantic or Impressionist or Cubist sense, that does not have any connection with it."--Duchamp, 1916

In Advance of a Broken Arm was the first Readymade to be made by Duchamp after his move to the United States. It seems a rather direct result of this relocation; the American snow shovel was something that Duchamp had never seen before, having moved from France where no such thing was in production. 

The shovel is inscribed along its lower rim with the following phrase: "In Advance of the Broken Arm/(from) Marcel Duchamp 1915." 

This "from" conveys that the object came from the artist, but was not necessarily made by him. Duchamp explains that the title of this piece adds "verbal color, as in most of the other Readymades". 

The shovel illustrates just how blurry the line between art and life is when dealing with the Readymades. In Advance of the Broken Arm could easily be mistaken for a simple shovel if it were not suspended from the ceiling. Displacement thus stands as a critical part of the piece. 



ft_big.jpg (21714 bytes)

  Marcel Duchamp, Fountain, 1917, 

white glazed ceramic plumbing fixture and painted signature, 

readymade porcelain urinal on its back, 63 x 48 x 35 cm. 

(photographed in 1917 by Alfred Steiglitz)  

The urinal, purchased from "Mott Works" company in New York and signed "R. Mutt," was submitted to the jury-free 1917 Independents exhibition but was suppressed by the hanging committee.

Fountain is the most famous of Duchamp's so-called Ready-made Sculptures, ordinary manufactured objects designated by the artist as works of art. It epitomizes the assault on convention and accepted notions of art for which Duchamp became known. The original, which is now lost, consisted of a standard urinal, laid flat on its back and signed with a pseudonym, R. Mutt 1917. 

"Now Mr. Mutt's fountain is not immoral, that is absurd, no more than a bathtub is immoral. It is a fixture that you see every day in plumbers' show windows. Whether Mr. Mutt with his own hands made the fountain or not has no importance. He CHOSE it. He took an ordinary article of life, placed it so that its useful significance disappeared under the new title and point of view -- created a new thought for that object."
From an anonymous article published by Duchamp, Beatrice Wood, and H.-P. Roche in Blind Man, May 1917.


 duchamp-LHOOQ.jpg (36759 bytes) Marcel Duchamp, L.H.O.O.Q., 1919, "rectified readymade," pencil on a reproduction, 7 3/4 x 4 7/8 inches

 As if the addition of mustache and beard weren't enough of a poke at this most famous of paintings, the letters Duchamp penciled -- L.H.O.O.Q. -- 

Just as saying the letters C.D.B. in English sounds like "See the bee," saying the letters L.H.O.O.Q. when read aloud in French, make the sound of "Elle a chaud au cul," meaning, "She has a hot ass."

"Itís very difficult to choose an object, because, at the end of fifteen days, you begin to like it or hate it... The choice of the readymades is always based on visual indifference and, at the same time, on the total absence of good or bad taste." Marcel Duchamp


"Apropos of 'Readymades'" - Marcel Duchamp

In 1913 I had the happy idea to fasten a bicycle wheel to a kitchen stool and watch it turn.
A few months later I bought a cheap reproduction of a winter evening landscape, which I called "Pharmacy" after adding two small dots, one red and one yellow, in the horizon.
New York in 1915 I bought at a hardware store a snow shovel on which I wrote "In advance of the broken arm."
It was around that time that the word "Readymade" came to my mind to designate this form of manifestation.
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 anaesthesia.
One important characteristic was the short sentence which I occasionally inscribed on the "Readymade."
That sentence instead of describing the object like a title was meant to carry the mind of the spectator towards other regions more verbal.
Sometimes I would add a graphic detail of presentation which, in order to satisfy my craving for alliterations, would be called "Readymade aided."
At another time, wanting to expose the basic antinomy between art and "Readymades," I imagined a "Reciprocal Readymade": use a Rembrandt as an ironing board!
I realized very soon the danger of repeating indiscriminately this form of expression and decided to limit the production of "Readymades" to a small number yearly. I was aware at that time, that for the spectator even more for the artist, art is a habit forming drug and I wanted to protect my "Readymades" against such a contamination.
Another aspect of the "Readymade" is its lack of uniqueness... the replica of the "Readymade" delivering the same message, in fact nearly every one of the "Readymades" existing today is not an original in the conventional sense.
A final remark to this egomaniac's discourse:
Since the tubes of paint used by an artist are manufactured and readymade products we must conclude that all the paintings in the world are "Readymades aided" and also works of assemblage.
Written in 1961  


manray1.jpg (468697 bytes) Man Ray Gift, 1921

Man Rayís Gift, 1921 , is an ordinary flatiron of the period, but the tacks glued onto it (the artistís name and title are also inscribed) absolutely contradict the ironís function and thus its identity. By this transformative gesture the artist makes the object into a poetic statement.


Found Objects

Since the early twentieth century, artists have used ordinary materials or "found objects" in their artworks. The use of industrial and natural materials can provoke personal, as well as universal, associations for the viewer.

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ME0000055575_3.jpg (417700 bytes) Raoul Hausmann Mechanical Head (The Spirit of Our Age), 1919?

The mannequin or "dummy's head" represents an unflattering portrait of the German middle class. It has eyes with no pupils so it cannot see for itself; its lips are closed tight because it cannot or will not speak out; over its ear Hausmann has placed a little case with a typeset cartridge inside because the head only hears what it is told in the newspapers. It has a number tacked to its forehead for identification. Crowning its head is a traveler's collapsible cup, waiting for you to pour in any information you want. 

"The German wants only his order, his king, his Sunday sermon, and his easy chair......has no more capabilities than those which chance has glued on the outside of his skull; his brain remains empty"." Raoul Hausmann.


In The Soul of Morvan, Jean Dubuffet used grapevines from the wine-growing region of Morvan, France, to evoke a weatherworn man laboring in a vineyard. By leaving the materials in a rough, earthy state, Dubuffet made the sculpture even more expressive.

TheSoulofMorvanDubuffet.jpg (31548 bytes) The Soul of Morvan, Jean Dubuffet



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motorcycle1Bruce Gray.jpg (79087 bytes) eve287.jpg (65332 bytes) tricycle.jpg (65004 bytes) Bruce Gray

cop_d_1996.jpg (28226 bytes) copb_d_1996.jpg (46083 bytes)

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Docu0003z.jpg (640994 bytes) Philippe Starck 1994