Marcel Duchamp and the Art of the Readymade

Marcel Duchamp’s greatest contributions to the art world took place in the 1910s and 20s as part of the Dada movement, however, his legacy really came to life in the 1960s as he became a mentor to the Fluxus and conceptual art movement, which was centred in the New York area.

The most identifiable works by Duchamp were his “Readymades”. They were basically objects purchased from the store and displayed in a gallery. One of the most popular ones was a urinal that has the initials “R. Mutt” scribbled on it.

The idea was to make a statement that art didn’t have to be a piece that the artist belaboured over for months on end for it to be art. Another point of the Readymades was to say that art doesn’t necessarily have to be visual, or “retinal” as he described it, but more something of the mind.

Duchamp’s approach to creating art is something that should be familiar to many of us in the era of Instagram. We are allowed to take a picture of our meal and share it with thousands of people, and this activity is deemed to be a legitimate exercise. Even if you scoff at this, Duchamp would certainly approve of it as this is an expression of your ideas, and who is to say that Instagram was meant to be a high-art photography platform anyways? It is open to being used however the creative person sees fit.

He saw the world of art in the same way, and for this, you can take inspiration in his bravery as the art world was still used to traditional forms of painting and sculpture at the time. And it was only thanks to experimental artists that these new forms were deemed acceptable in the 1960s and beyond.

I also have the takeaway that artists and innovators sometimes need to not overthink their work. The act of getting something out into the world uses up enough mental energy as it is, so sometimes the most simple solutions are the best.

Recreation of the Reunion Chess board by Rob Cruikshank (World Chess Hall of Fame)

One bonus point about Duchamp. In the later part of his career, he almost exclusively focused his attention to the game of chess, and he wanted to play it competitively although this might not have been realistic with his late adoption of the game. However he did a hybrid of a match and performance with John Cage on a modified chess board that was generating a sound performance as they played (Reunion, 1968). And this happened at a theatre at Ryerson University in Toronto.

Marcel Duchamp on Wikipedia