Theodore Gracyk      
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   Examples of the work of Marcel Duchamp
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Readymades (1913-1917)

Duchamp: "all associations are permitted"

Painting is "washed up," Duchamp said in 1912. In abandoning painting, he said, "I want something where  the eye and the hand count for nothing."

This period culminated in his 1917 submission of Fountain (signed R. Mutt) to an art exhibit of the Society of Independent Artists in New York. Although the show did not have a jury, the organizers refused to exhibit Fountain.


Fountain  1917
(photographed in 1917 by Alfred Steiglitz)

Duchamp responded in defense of his alter-ego, Mr. Mutt, with the following argument:

"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 a new title and point of view -- he created a new thought for the object."


The "original" urinal was lost (supposedly thrown away by his sister). There are now a number of "authorized" reproductions. (But how many were authorized is a matter of dispute!)

The photographs of The Bicycle Wheel and In Advance of a Broken Arm also feature reproductions.



The Bicycle Wheel   1913

Duchamp called it "the beginning" of his artistic maturity.

In Advance of a Broken Arm   1915


Duchamp said of Bicycle Wheel, "Please note that I did not want to make a work of art out of it."  It is offered as something "absolutely devoid of aesthetic pleasure."



By 1915, Duchamp used the term READYMADE to classify The Bicycle Wheel and In Advance of a Broken Arm.

In 1961, Duchamp wrote a short explanation of readymades. 
To read it, click here.

Why not sneeze, Rose Sélavy?  1921

The "sugar cubes" are marble cubes. The bird cage also contains a thermometer and a cuttlebone. "The thermometer is to register the temperature of the marble.”


"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

Readymades have a "literary side."



The design of Why not sneeze may have been suggested to Duchamp by a Gertrude Stein poem, "Lifting Belly" (1915).

Leonardo da Vinci
Mona Lisa, 1503-6
Marcel Duchamp
L.H.O.O.Q. 1919
Marcel Duchamp
L.H.O.O.Q. Shaved  1965


Many of the readymades involve modification of some commercial object (e.g., Why not sneeze? and The Bicycle Wheel). 

. is the most humorous example of this group, as Duchamp first alters a reproduction of the Mona Lisa and then, in 1965, does NOT modify another reproduction as a variant on the first. 

Just as saying the letters C.D.B. in English sounds like "See the bee," saying the letters L.H.O.O.Q. in French sounds like "She's got a hot ass." But is "she" the woman pictured in the Mona Lisa, or the transvestite that Duchamp has made by putting the facial hair on the image?




                    Last updated June 18, 2004

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Learn more about Marcel Duchamp's readymades 

An essay about Duchamp and the Dada movement 

On-line journal devoted to Duchmap 

Another place to learn about Duchamp 

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