The Readymade Century

"If contemporary art were a religion – and maybe it is – its symbol might be an upside-down bicycle wheel mounted on a wooden stool. As a sign it stands for transubstantiation just as surely as a wafer placed in the mouths of the faithful. It promises that ordinary objects can be magically transformed by their placement – literally and figuratively – as art. Marcel Duchamp created Bicycle wheel one hundred years ago. The committee rejected it because it was “not art”. And this is the readymade’s most radical gesture: to shift the art conversation from the question “is it beautiful?” to one that asks, “is it art?” It moves art from the aesthetic to the conceptual, or, in Duchamp’s own words, from “the retinal” to an art of the mind. The slippery legacy of the readymade is explored in Reinventing the Wheel: The Readymade Century, coming to Monash University Museum of Art in October.

Dylan Rainforth of Art Guide Australia writes: “If contemporary art were a religion – and maybe it is – its symbol might be an upside-down bicycle wheel mounted on a wooden stool. As a sign it stands for transubstantiation just as surely as a wafer placed in the mouths of the faithful. It promises that ordinary objects can be magically transformed by their placement – literally and figuratively – as art. Marcel Duchamp created Bicycle wheel one hundred years ago. The committee rejected it because it was “not art”. This is the readymade’s most radical gesture: to shift the art conversation from the question “is it beautiful?” to one that asks, “is it art?” It moves art from the aesthetic to the conceptual, or, in Duchamp’s own words, from “the retinal” to an art of the mind.” Philosopher Slavoj Žižek made the following observation: “The underlying notion of Duchamp’s elevation of an everyday common object into a work of art is that being a work of art is not an inherent property of the object. It is the artist himself who, by pre-empting the … object and locating it in a certain place, makes it a work of art – being a work of art is not a question of ‘why’ but ‘where’.” Monash University Museum of Art is bringing readymade legacy to Melbourne from October 3 to December 14.

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