Ready and Raring

By Emily Zoeller

Would you consider the men’s urinal a piece of art? Probably not had it not been for the legendary artist Marcel DuChamp. It was over 100 years ago that DuChamp exhibited ‘Fountain’, a urinal signed with his signature that he presented as an art piece. Sparking controversy between art critics, it left the lingering question: can everything and anything be art? From this, the ‘readymade movement’ was born. Read about it here in Ready and Raring.

In 1917, an anonymous artist presented a white urinal to The Society of Independent Artists’ salon in New York. The board claimed it would take any art to the board so long as the artist paid the application fee. The urinal, signed with ‘R.Mutt’, was laughed upon, considered a joke by this anonymous artist and subsequently rejected. Little did the rest of these judges know that the artist of said ‘Fountain’, DuChamp, was part of the board, causing him to resign from the Society in protest.

This sparked controversy: many art critics did not consider this to be art. For it was a urinal, not even made by DuChamp himself. Yet one editor, Beatrice Wood, saw the vision. She spoke about the artist as ‘Mr Mutt’, stating “Whether Mr Mutt with his own hands made the fountain or not has no importance. He chose it.”

Image by FHKE

Art, to DuChamp, was a concept. A concept that allowed him to create the ‘Readymade Theory’. The theory that artists can change the meaning on inanimate objects, such as urinals. The choice itself is the creative act. It cancels the useful function of the object. And what’s to say art has to be beautiful? DuChamp uses objects that have a total absence of good and bad taste, based on the reaction of visual indifference.

The theory paved way for other artists to explore their creativity: Pablo Picasso showcased ‘Bull’s Head’, a bicycle seat paired with a rusty set of handlebars. Fans were shocked, for this was not the abstract Picasso they knew. Picasso stated he found the seat and handlebars in a pile of rubbish, and all he did was “weld them together”. The installation was removed from the exhibition due to the same controversial views people had against DuChamp’s ‘Fountain’.

A popular form of readymade art is Tracy Emin’s ‘My Bed’. During a depressive episode where she drank nothing but alcohol after a breakup, Emin looked at her bed before her with utter disgust, but also inspiration. Here, she presented her installation before her audience, stirring conversations about the secretions, condoms and menstrual blood stains that shocked a lot of people.

What about art you can put in your home? There is such a rise in popularity at the moment for homeware that doubles as an art installation, all thanks to the theory of readymade art. The Holbourne Museum is introducing a new retrospective exhibition dedicated to Jeremy Fry, an engineer and arts patron, who introduced the Unlimited series in 1966: a series of installations that were originally limited editions, which he now made copies of for purchase at regular prices.

Jeremy Fry with Takis Signals, Widcombe Manor, Bath 1967

These pieces were worked on alongside artists such as Takis, Liliane Lijn, Mary Martin Kenneth Martin, Lygia Clark and Michael McKinnon. The works of art are accessible for people to buy and display in their homes, changing the way in which we see art. Who says art has to be one of a kind, limited to just viewing in a gallery without paying astonishing prices for it?

Open until 4th June, the Unlimited – Unlimited: Art for All in 1960s exhibition will take place in The Assembly Rooms in Bath, curated by Jeremy Fry’s sons Cosmo and Francis with Holburne Museum’s Chris Stephens. It’s a perfect exhibition for lovers of interior design, as well as the readymade theory and the changing of art as we know it.

Liliane Lijn, Liquid Reflections, photo Caroline True 2023

It’s clear art is forever changing, and the readymade movement from DuChamp’s 1917 installation acted as a creator of this. Unlimited – Unlimited: Art for All in 1960s is another example of changing art, installations easily accessible to the public that can be seen as abstract homeware. And this could potentially pave the way for other artists to do the same.

For more information on Unlimited visit The Holbourne Museum website here.

Cover image: Takis Signals, vintage, by Robert Whitaker

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