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Tag Archives: readymades

Marcel Duchamp’s Christmas

How to display and decorate your Christmas tree in the style of Marcel Duchamp: he did do this one Christmas at Teeny’s house. First, hang the Christmas tree upside down from the ceiling. There a strategic advantage to this way of displaying a Christmas tree, as Duchamp pointed out – there is more room for presents underneath it. On the subject of presents, in keeping with theme of Dadaist readymades, they should be wrapped à la Man Ray.

Marcel Duchamp enjoyed Christmas. In 1907 he held a two day Christmas party that was so wild that he was evicted from his apartment at 65 rue Caulaincourt in Paris. He was twenty years old and had done very little that year but hang around in Paris and go to the seaside in the summer. The menu for this riotous party survives, exhibiting some early Duchamp word play and a drawing of a naked woman sitting in a giant champagne glass drinking from a bottle. Note the English “Plump Pudding”: “Rebellion Menu / Ituitus / Hors d’ouavres / Divedi truffée / Salood / Pâtés / Plump Pudding / Desserts / Vino / Liquors / Champagne / M.D. 24 Dis. 1907” 

There is a further art historical connection between this infamous Christmas party and Duchamp’s later art; leiris202 claims that photo of Duchamp’s draftsman’s stool used as a stand for a Christmas tree 1907. The stool looks similar to the one used, five years later, for Bicycle Wheel, the first of Duchamp’s ‘readymades’ but even if it isn’t the idea of a Christmas tree is good way to introduce the idea of ‘readymades’. 

The common claim of not to be able to understand Duchamp’s ‘readymades’ is odd because people annually make Christmas trees which are by definition an assisted (decorated) readymade. The Dictionnaire abrégé du surréalisme defines the readymade as “an everyday object elevated to the more dignified level of an artistic object at the mere whim of the artist”. Dictionnaire abrégé du surréalisme (1938; Rennes, 1969) Ordinary objects regularly transcend the commonplace in religion, as well as, art.

The tree decorated with its lights is connecting with the ancient Roman rituals and the god Mithras. Mithras is a god who was also man, born on December 25th; his birth also announced by a star and witnessed by shepherds. Art, like religion and culture, is the recombination, reuse and reinterpretation of pre-existing ‘readymade’ parts.

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Gladwell’s Reversed Readymade

Turning and spinning are themes that Sean Gladwell’s art revolves around; as in his video Storm Sequence where he spins around on his skateboard. So it is not surprising that his VR art, Reversed Readymade makes heads turn.

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In fact you can turn a full 360 degrees in a VR of an actual warehouse studio while seated in an office chair. It makes you feel very much in control of the VR experience, even if you are stuck in one spot, because you can turn your back on things.

Gladwell’s Reversed Readymade is a beautiful use of VR technology with a big reference to Marcel Duchamp. This is both the most direct and complete Duchamp reference that I have ever seen (I did my Master’s thesis on Duchamp so I have seen a lot). Gladwell takes Marcel Duchamp’s first readymade, Bicycle Wheel and makes it his own.

Gladwell actually makes it his own, making his own bicycle wheel mounted on a stool and then rides it around, spinning around in a circle in the studio. The six minute VR experience depicts this along with some bicycle riding.

Marcel Duchamp had the idea of a reverse readymade. It was a reciprocal arrangement to his readymades, where an existing work of art would be used as an ordinary object. “A Rembrandt used as an ironing board” was Duchamp’s suggestion but Bicycle Wheel is more deserving. It also works better for Gladwell who has more experience with wheels than domestic appliances.

Nor should we forget Duchamp’s interest in optical and mechanical art and that the bicycle wheel was his first attempt at optical art. Duchamp made Bicycle Wheel, in part, to be able to watch the pattern of shadows from a spinning spokes for more than a few seconds.

I’d like to think that Duchamp would have been very impressed with Gladwell’s work for its visual, optical and conceptual elements; he would have also probably felt a bit dizzy from the VR experience, I was.

Sean Gladwell’s Reversed Readymade 2016 is part of the Basil Sellers Art Prize exhibition at the Ian Potter Museum of Art at Melbourne University.


Person of Interest – Marcel Duchamp

Many millions of words have been written about the art of Marcel Duchamp – I wrote my Master thesis about Duchamp’s readymades. I was wrote it in the unlikely setting of Philosophy Department of La Trobe University. I was interested in the impact of philosophy on Duchamp and Duchamp’s readymades impact on the philosophy of art. Anyway that was decades ago and this blog post isn’t about my thesis – it is about the extensive influence of Duchamp on my life.

Many people still regard Duchamp as the anti-Christ of art, others as the godfather of contemporary art. David W. Galenson ranks Marcel Duchamp as the 3rd most important artist in the 20th Century by mean illustrations in a sample of texts on the history of 20th Century art. Duchamp is such a large an influential on contemporary art because he was a major influence on Man Ray, John Cage and many other artists. Duchamp is so influential on contemporary art and myself that at the top of my word.doc for drafts of this blog I have this admonition: “I will not use any excuse to mention Marcel Duchamp.”

Duchamp was at first interesting to me when I was an undergraduate studying aesthetics and other philosophical issues concerned with art because he created difficult examples for any theory. His art was about ideas and so was easily transmitted in art history books. It wasn’t until years after I became interested in Duchamp that I encounter my first actual Duchamp readymade, Hat Rack (1917) in the collection of Australian Nation Gallery Canberra and by then I knew that this was one of an edition of 8 that Duchamp made in 1964. The examples of Duchamp’s art that I have encountered are like curious relics. I really enjoyed playing with a reproduction of Duchamp’s Bicycle Wheel because I could touch it and see the pattern of light created by the spokes.

When I came to writing my thesis Duchamp’s readymades lead me to the writings of the philosophers Arthur Danto and Max Stirner as Stirner’s philosophy influenced Duchamp and Duchamp’s readymades influenced Danto’s thinking about art. And both of these philosophers have continued to influence my thinking.

Studying Duchamp gives a good perspective on the art world and the many and varied roles in the art world. For most of his life, Duchamp wasn’t a full time artist there was a lot of chess playing and giving French lessons. When he was involved in the art world he was more often an art dealer (he represented Brancusi in the US), judging a panel for an art prize, and other exhibition organization work like catalogue design. And this is what most people forget, or don’t know, when they think about what Duchamp did – it’s like that internet meme, about what my mother thinks I do, what I think, what my friends think etc.

Duchamp reminds me that there are more positions on the chessboard of the art world than the mass of artist pawns working their way up the board to become Queens. Perhaps I am playing the position of the critical knight and art galleries as castles, bishops are collectors etc. to keep the metaphor going, even though I’ve largely played it out. Anyway the point of my metaphor is that you don’t have to be an artist in order to participate in the art world, most of the participants are not. They are the other player at the other end of the board.

Most of the participants in the art world are viewers, responders and Duchamp’s art depends on the minds of others, for the responder to join in and continue the game. (For more on Duchamp see MarcelDuchamp.Net.) It is his understanding that art exists in the minds of other people that invites people to respond to his art, to write millions of words about it or to create art inspired by him. Duchamp’s epitaph reads: “D’ailleurs, c’est toujours les autres qui meurent” (Besides, it’s always the others who die.)


Julian Di Martino @ 69 Smith

Yellow toy workmen inside a perplex vacuum cleaner – nature should abhor that. But it is also a metaphor for working life.

Come Here and See That by Julian Di Martino at 69 Smith St. is a fun exhibition. So much fun it should be in the Comedy Festival; there are lots of sculpture making visual puns and other word play with a sardonic tone. Providing salt to rub into life’s wounds.

Following in the tradition of Barry Humphries’s Wobboist (Dada) objects, like “Pus in Boots” (1953). These are assemblages with humor, like the tower of 73 caulking nozzles stolen from Bunnings hardware. Rectified readymades are constructed from found or everyday supermarket materials like tomato sauce squeeze bottles. The plastic tomato sauce bottles become birds. Julian is also plays with the symbolism of primary colors used in these objects, a reminder that Julian is a visual artist and not a prop comic. Although describing the objects and their titles feels like explaining a joke. (The objects are not given high art prices $40 – $900)

Julian Di Martino transforms the supermarket ordinary world into a series of jokes. You don’t get a lot of loud laughs in an art gallery. It was hard to take it all in at the crowded opening on Saturday but you could tell from the way that people looked in at Julian’s objects from the front window of 69 Smith that they were enjoying it.

I’ve known Julian Di Martino for years; we are old drinking buddies. Julian when he is not at home studio in his converted shop in North Coburg can often be found gallery sitting at 69 Smith St. Julian is one of the founding members of 69 Smith St. Come Here and See That is a return to the style of object making from Julian’s first exhibition at Yuma Ya Gallery in Collingwood (Yuma Ya Gallery then developed into 69 Smith Street).


Kitchen Passions

The readymade is, in an odd way, a part of the history of still life painting or photography. Duchamp’s readymades are best known through photographs reproduced in art history books. Duchamp’s readymades hardly exist, those that actually exist are mostly limited edition reproductions; this is of no importance because they are not ‘retinal’ works of art but ideas. The artist chooses an object and make it art; it really doesn’t matter if the object exists in a photograph or physically because ultimately it exists as art only in the mind of the viewer.

Maree Alexander’s exhibition of photographs, Behind Closed Doors at Jenny Port Gallery is a beautiful and surreal use of readymades. The relationship that Alexander creates in her photographs between readymade objects creates new Surreal meanings. Surrealism included Duchamp’s idea of the readymade in their repertoire of techniques. Surrealism is a way of understanding the world, a world charged with unexpected meanings from the unconsciousness. And the Surreal unconscious is, not surprisingly given their Freudian influences, a sexually charged world.

Alexander’s readymades, like Duchamp’s, frequently have sexual overtones. Alexander’s kitchen ceramic objects are animated. Lemon squeezers mate with each other, a jug and teapot kiss as honey runs along their lips, a round jug presses a curved glass into a corner. There is a masculine or feminine aspect to many of the objects that Alexander has used. A small ceramic bird begs for food from the leg of a larger upturned jug.

Duchamp’s readymades were frequently purchased in a hardware shops; Maree Alexander’s readymades are found in kitchens (sourced from friends, op-shops and garage sales)

Alexander’s photographs of these surreal readymades have pale tones and a cool gaze. But behind the closed cupboard doors Maree Alexander’s objects are passionate entities.


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