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II. Creating Organization

"Any attempt to establish a formula, a key, or some other type of guiding principle by which to assess or in other ways interpret the artistic production of Marcel Duchamp would be - in the humble opinion of the present author - an entirely futile endeavor... each creative effort was conceived with the intention of consciously defying convenient categorization."
- Francis M. Naumann (Kuenzli Marcel 20)

Pinpointing the concrete number of Readymades Duchamp "created" during his lifetime is a very careful exercise. Arturo Schwarz lists 30-something pieces, whereas other sources claim smaller numbers. Ramirez acknowledges 18 Readymades in a table in which he attempts to pin down certain characteristics of the group (64-5). He includes such "probable" cases as Three Standard Stoppages, but does not include Pharmacy, and ignores later pieces such as Door, 11 rue Larrey. Meanwhile, Octavio Paz notes the list of Readymades as being relatively small, claiming "there aren't many of them" (11). However, in this short list he includes some generally considered "obscure" pieces such as Corkscrew's Shadow, Water and Gas on Every Floor, and Pocket Chess Set. Tomkins says that the artist produced "no more than twenty in his lifetime," although quickly acknowledges the possible variation in even this counting, noting "the exact number depends on whether or not to include such debatable cases as Three Standard Stoppages, which Duchamp once referred to as his favorite readymade" (159). Duve notes the "most exhaustive list to date [1994]" by Andre Gervais as listing about fifty objects to the category of Readymade ("Echoes" 67). The question of what was the "first" Readymade has also become an ongoing argument. Duve, like many others, quickly writes off Bicycle Wheel as the first of the Readymades ("Readymade" 111). However, a number of others make a point to mention some much earlier pieces including Pharmacy and Hand Stereoscopy. Naumann interestingly threw a curve ball in February 2000, presenting the recently discovered Bilboquet, dating to 1910, as a possible fit for the number one slot in the long line of Readymades. Thomas Girst wrote the following explanation in April 2003: "As for their actual number, Duchamp once spoke of thirty to thirty-five, thought today only about a third of them are known. Many objects qualifying as readymades - mentioned in his notes and in early accounts by Charles Sheeler, William Carlos Williams, and Edgar Varese - were never realized or are lost without a trace" (2). And so the discussion continues.

Clearly, "debatable cases" prove to be numerous, and for the purposes of this exhibition exercise, all possible cases as discovered by the author are presented so as to provide the reader with the full spectrum of material (43 Readymades), thus allowing him to decide what is truly "debatable" for himself. [Unfortunately, due to the fact that much material on Duchamp's Readymades is written in his native tongue of French and still remains to be translated into English, a substantial amount of readings have proved impossible to assimilate into a bibliography compiled by a researcher unversed in the French language. This unfortunate circumstance has undoubtedly hindered the efforts to incorporate "all" possible Readymades to an extent. Surely, for those fluent in French, much more material remains to be explored beyond that assimilated in this project.]

One of the Many Problems: The Multiple

"...Duchamp was the artist who invented what is today called the multiple" (Schwarz 47).

Duchamp authorized the production of multiples of many of his Readymades. As a result, there exists more than just one copy of each piece, and often the original has been lost or destroyed, only existing today by means of photographs. As Buskirk states, a "significant proportion" of the Readymades "had a continuous existence only in the form of reproductions" ("Thoroughly" 119). Variation from the original sometimes varies greatly in the production of multiples. This therefore greatly complicates the organization when the already large number of readymades is multiplied, creating an overwhelming amount of pieces to work with, including notes and sketches, and many pieces that do not even exist anymore. "Duchamp... opened up a debate about the nature of authorship and what could properly be claimed to be an original work of art when he came up with the idea of editioning collections of his work. Thus, in 1935 La Boite-en-Valise... was born" (Sutherland 19). Box in Valise, a type of portable museum of Duchamp's pieces, incorporates a large number of replicas, and (as a type of Readymade itself) was also produced in a large number of editions.

A. Criteria

The following excerpt is from notes in the Green Box:


Specifications for 'Readymades'.

By planning for a moment to come (on such a day, such a date such a minute), 'to inscribe a readymade' - The readymade can later be looked for. - (with all kinds a delays)
     The important thing then is just this matter of timing, this snapshot effect, like a speech delivered on no matter what occasion but at such and such an hour. It is a kind of rendezvous.

     -Naturally inscribe that date, hour, minute, on the readymade as information.
     also the serial characteristic of the readymade.

Reciprocal Readymade = Use a Rembrandt as an ironing-board -"

- Sanouillet & Peterson (32)

Developing a list of "criteria" for such complex pieces as the readymades proves a foreboding task. Duchamp's "willingness, even eagerness, to reverse himself" substantially complicates his work and makes the process of analyzing it considerably difficult. As a result of this self-contradiction and the extensive duration of time over which they were "made" (over fifty years), the Readymades have come to illustrate a substantial degree of variation.

A physical exhibition in a real-world gallery space has many constraints when it comes to choosing pieces for inclusion in a show. If this were an exhibition of that sort, many limits would exist and help in narrowing the group of included works. In this online exhibition, there are no such limits. Therefore, all of Duchamp's artworks ever categorized as Readymades (to the best of the author's knowledge), including notes and drawings of pieces that no longer or never did exist in physicality, will be included in all of their variation. In this case, creating a list of "criteria" does not necessarily decide what is included and excluded, but rather facilitates in dividing and organizing the show into specific sections so as to encourage comparative thinking and facilitate navigation.

The following list of "criteria" outlines the basic characteristics of the Readymades, attempting to shed light on some of the things they accomplish, address, question, and incorporate at their crux. This list is by no means a finite directory, for the Readymade at its core is an unfixed concept. After all, as Kuenzli notes, "The frustration, exasperation and puzzlement of Duchamp interpreters seems to be due largely to their persistent but hopeless attempt to find something that does not exist: a consistent meaning in a work by Duchamp" (Marcel 5). This is not what I am searching for here, but rather, I wish to explore the various issues and themes the Readymades address at their crux in an attempt to gain a greater understanding of the group of pieces as a collection. Variations due to the conceptual complexities inherent to the Readymade and the development of the genre over time are inevitable and natural. They span a time period of over fifty years, so of course they will have evolved over such a long time frame.

A Readymade:

1) Raises philosophical questions concerning the traditional definition of art and role of the artist. Not important solely as a physical object, but also as an idea. It takes art away from the retinal, and towards the cerebral. This philosophical approach initially seems to conflict with the concrete or physical one; however, the concrete aspects of the Readymade actually act as an extension of the philosophical methodology. By being overtly concrete, the Readymades force the viewer to raise philosophical questions and to approach them as more of an idea. Duchamp insists that both approaches co-exist interdependently, that opposites are really two parts of the same whole and that they can fight each other while simultaneously contributing to one another.
Photos, sketches, and notes are often the
only remaining evidence of the existence of Readymades. As a result, this evidence is often treated like the art object itself and carefully cared for. The variation in "degrees" of Readymades are evidence of the development and nurturing of the Readymade as an idea; it is not necessarily linear, but in fact circles around back upon itself and bounces and skips around at times. Such contradictions within the collection make categorization increasingly difficult.

2) Is an everyday item (or is made of multiple items) taken (more or less) directly from the "store window." In this sense, the Readymade addresses the idea of mass-production and the commercial world. Replicas stand as legitimate Readymades and embody their ideas well (perhaps even more so than the originals). The Readymade "highlights [the] traditional hypocrisy of pretending that there is a contradiction between 'Art' and 'Commodity' and that aesthetic and commodity values are totally opposed to one another" (Ades 160).
ie. Bottle rack, Shovel, Fountain

3) Is a functional object (or made of several such objects) displaced from its/their original surroundings and/or function. A main issue is that of indifference. Duchamp claims that the all important "choice" of the Readymades is inherently one of neutrality, without any attention to "aesthetic" beauty. However, no matter how displaced the Readymade may be, it still clearly occupies the same world we do, and is recognizable as something we often see and interact with in our three dimensional world. (Of course, to the modern viewer they may seem more foreign than to Duchamp's contemporaries). In turn, the Readymade questions/challenges the nature of the gallery space, blurring the boundary between art and life. It prompts the viewer to re-examine the fundamentals of the viewer/artwork relationship. This is the key to approaching the Readymade in a real-life museum context.
ie. a urinal suspended from a doorframe, coat rack nailed to the floor.

4) Fights against the aesthetic tradition, is iconoclastic. The Readymade is art by "designation" not "creation" and has no claim to being "beautiful" but instead is considered to be "neutral." This indifference is pivotal. As Baruchello and Martin explain, "He was preaching indifference, and he in fact put that kind of indifference into practice, but the result he achieved, and perhaps intended to achieve, was for the people who received his message not to be indifferent at all... his indifference becomes scandalous, and rather than indifferent we find ourselves tremendously intrigued" (149). The act of signing a Readymade makes it "art," thus questioning the role of the author and the power of his indifferent "choice" (Ades 154). The idea of replicas contributes to this criterion. With the artist's approval and/or signature, items are "elevated" to the level of art. And in Duchamp's case, considering the "Readymade" nature of the originals, replicas are in a way no less legitimate than the original Readymades.
As Temkin explains quite well, "Duchamp's works punctured sacred tenets of modernism, principles that at the start of this century bore the status of indisputable truths. The readymades - a preexisting item that Duchamp designated as an artwork - refuted the axiom that a work's greatness resides in its originality, its never-having-been-done-before quality (although, of course, Duchamp's act itself had that very trait). Duchamp's liberal shuffling of egos and signatures (and, with his alter ego Rrose Selavy, of gender) attacked the notion of the unitary author-genius-god as creator of a work of art. Later in life, Duchamp's cheerful replication of many of his earlier works flouted the imperative of uniqueness" (133).

5) Incorporates word plays and puns in its title, subject(s) and/or theme(s). The Readymade utilizes language as part of the artwork itself; linguistic play adds additional layers to the meaning of the piece. "…Duchamp is attempting to master not only the commodity but also its means of communication, its language" (Nesbit 63). Robert Pincus-Witten explains, "The pun is the touchstone of Duchamp's thought - a circular process of reasoning that thriftily returns to the same place while releasing fresh insights" (Arman 143). "Duchamp's readymades are, indeed, private jokes - puns" (Kuspit 109).
ie. L.H.O.O.Q., Comb, Traveller's Folding Item, Shovel, Hidden Noise

6) Incorporates gender allusions and erotic aspects on varying levels. Ramirez supports this interpretation, claiming, "[the readymades'] dominant theme, as we can see, is fundamentally sexual with its roots in the deep universality of primitive instincts." Edenbaum adds, "As the collector of pubic hairs he was the ultimate miser, the miser of sex. His work revolved around images of mechanized sexuality... this has been ignored by American critics while it has been absorbed by Europe..." (44). Ramirez focuses heavily on the sexual aspects of the Readymades, proceeding to label each one either masculine, feminine, or (in the case of Fountain) bisexual (56). Kuspit sees such works as L.H.O.O.Q. as signs of gender confusion (111).
ie. Belle Haleine Eau de Voilette, Traveller's Folding Item

7) Addresses the idea of motion or kinetic energy. The Readymade is designed for action, not just visual effect. It asks, even begs, the viewer to interact and not just gaze at it. In this way, it often suggests a human presence - at times on an erotic level (see further sexual ideas above and within individual entries). They embody an "enchantment with pointless motion, with inconsequentiality" (Ratcliff 86).
ie. a wheel wants to be spun, Hidden Noise wants to be shaken, a comb wants to be run through our hair, and a bottle rack, hat rack and coat rack all have (phallic) spikes that desire objects to be hung on them.

8) Plays on human concepts and/or is personified through various allusions. Readymades often suggest human form and at times take on human characteristics, feelings, and roles.
Unhappy Readymade, Fresh Widow, Waistcoat, Couple of Laundress's Aprons

B. Internal Decisions

Throughout this exercise it is extremely important to keep in mind that this exhibition is hardly conventional in form. The traditional division of a show into a sequence of rooms is not necessary here, where with the help of hypertext, countless connections between pieces made be illustrated through linking pages. The Readymades are hardly artworks that want to or should be too standardized. "To fit this artist, who garnered fame by continually questioning and blurring art-historical bourgeois convention, into a bland, fixed tradition is a very non-Duchampian move" (Hixson 13-4).

However, it is necessary to encourage viewers to critically compare and analyze parallels between the different pieces in the exhibition, as well as for site organizational purposes, to arrange the pieces into several different sections.

After comparing the criteria with the Readymades, the following designations became apparent within the oeuvre of Duchamp's 43 Readymades:

Core Readymades (14): What Duchamp established as his most "important" Readymades when issuing replicas in editions of eight through Arturo Schwartz's Galleria Schwarz, Milan in 1964. Separated into two subcategories: Pure, Impure.

     Pure (8): Rather strictly follow aforementioned criteria, as well as Duchamp's original ideas of signing and dating.
(Paris Air; Fountain; Comb; Bottle Rack; Hat Rack; Trap; Traveler's Folding Item; In Advance of the Broken Arm)

     Impure (6): Reproduced in editions of eight in 1964. Almost universally acknowledged as Readymades, but do not follow criteria as closely as Pure Readymades.
(Hidden Noise; Apolinere Enameled; Bicycle Wheel; Fresh Widow; L.H.O.O.Q.; Why Not Sneeze, Rrose Selavy?)

Main Readymades (19): Main body of early, experimental Large Glass Readymades made up until 1923. Separated into three subcategories: Main, Ephemeral, Documents.

     Main (7): General early Readymades.
(Bilboquet; 3 Standard Stoppages; Pharmacy; Hand Stereoscopy; Unhappy Readymade; Brawl at Austerlitz; Belle Haleine, Eau de Voilette)

     Ephemeral (7): Either do not exist anymore or never existed originally. Question and illustrate the irony in the concept of the supposedly "concrete" nature of the Readymade.
(Pulled at Four Pins; Emergency in Favor of Twice; The Battle Scene; Sculpture for Traveling; Dust Breeding; Corkscrew's Shadow; Reciprocal Readymade)

     Documents (5): Deal with money transactions and/or the written document concept and its relationship with art.
(Tzanck Check; Monte Carlo Bond; WANTED: $2000 Reward; The Non-Dada; French Military Paper)

Late Readymades (10): Made after Duchamp completed work on the Large Glass in 1923, all of these Readymades are very "debatable."

Included here in an effort to present all that can fall in the very open category of "Readymade."
(Door, 11 rue Larrey; Pocket Chess Set; The Locking Spoon; Waistcoat; Water and Gas on Every Floor; Couple of Laundress's Aprons; L.H.O.O.Q. Shaved; Urn with Ashes of Duchamp['s Cigar]; Homage to Caissa; Box in Valise)

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