Art History Lab

Reimagining Art: The Revolutionary Impact of Readymade Art

Readymade Art: The Unique Form that Revolutionized the World of Art

When we think of art, most of us think of paintings or sculptures created by skilled artists. However, in the world of art, there is a unique form that challenges this traditional notion of art, known as Readymade art.

This form of art has been around for more than a hundred years and has had a significant impact on the art world. In this article, we will discuss the definition, notable examples, and history of Readymade art.

Definition of Readymade Art

The term Readymade was coined by the French artist, Marcel Duchamp, in 1915. He believed that anything could be deemed art if it were proclaimed as such, regardless of how ordinary or mundane it might seem.

According to Duchamp, Readymades are pre-manufactured objects, which are then transformed into works of art simply by acknowledging them as such. Duchamp’s work ‘Fountain’ is the most iconic example of Readymade art.

It is a urinal that he purchased in a plumbing store, signed with the pseudonym R. Mutt,’ and submitted to an exhibition in 1917.

At the time, this gesture was considered revolutionary because it challenged the conventional definition of art and the institution of art itself.

Notable Examples of Readymade Art

Apart from ‘Fountain,’ there are many other examples of Readymade art. One of Duchamp’s most famous works is the ‘Bicycle Wheel,’ which was created in 1913.

It consists of a bicycle wheel mounted on a stool, which Duchamp transformed into a kinetic sculpture. He considered it his first Readymade and innovatively created a challenging piece of art by re-contextualizing an everyday object.

Another famous example of a Readymade created by Duchamp was the ‘Lobster Telephone,’ created in 1936. This piece was crafted by combining a real lobster and a functional telephone to create a unique cycle of fear and convenience.

It represents Duchamp’s early influence around surrealism, a topic he explored throughout much of his work.

History of Readymade Art

The concept of Readymade art originated in the early 20th century, during the period of modern art. It happened around World War I, when many artists were looking for ways to respond to the catastrophic state of humanity.

They embraced their disdain for traditional art and focused mainly on anti-art or anti-aesthetic ways of expressing what they had in mind. Duchamp’s work was heavily influenced by the Dada movement, which originated in 1916 in Zurich, Switzerland.

The Dadaists rejected conventional forms of art and aestheticism, promoting the use of humor, irony, satire, and chance. The movement was characterized by the Cabaret Voltaire, where artists and writers gathered to discuss ideas and showcase their work.

Influenced by the Dadaists, Duchamp experimented with unconventional materials and techniques, leading him to discover the Readymade technique. However, he wasn’t the only artist exploring the possibilities of the Readymade.

In the 1920s and 1930s, other artists like Man Ray, Francis Picabia, and Hannah Hch started using pre-manufactured objects in their work. Incorporating found objects into art was also a technique used throughout the history of art, with the French term “objet trouv” coined by Picasso and Braque in the early 20th century.

In 1912, Picasso created a groundbreaking work called Still Life with Chair Caning, which is considered the first Synthetic Cubism piece to use a real object as an element of painting. This technique is often seen as a precursor to Readymade art.


Readymade art is a unique and unconventional way of creating art that has revolutionized traditional ideas around what art should be. It is considered a fundamental aspect of modern art, challenging the traditional definition of art and its institutions.

Duchamp’s work, in particular, has inspired many artists, collectors, and critics worldwide to explore new forms of art. The Dada movement, Picasso’s Synthetic Cubism and the creative use of found objects have all contributed to the history of Readymade art and its existence as a form of art.

Influence of Marcel Duchamp

Marcel Duchamp was a French-American artist, who was known for his pioneering work in conceptual and Readymade art. He is widely considered as one of the most influential artists of the 20th century.

Duchamp’s iconic works, Bicycle Wheel and Fountain, have inspired generations of artists to challenge conventional notions of art. In this section, we will discuss Duchamp’s introduction of Readymade art and his controversial work, Fountain.of Readymade Art by Duchamp

Duchamp’s introduction of Readymade art was a revolutionary moment for the art world.

He believed that art should be created by an intellectual process, rather than by the creation of an object. Duchamp’s seminal work, Bicycle Wheel, was a turning point in the history of art.

It was created in 1913, and it consisted of a wheel mounted on a stool. Although the work was intended to be a piece of art, it was created without any traditional artistic materials like paint or a canvas.

Duchamp’s Bicycle Wheel was also innovative because it was the first time that a Readymade was exhibited in a gallery context. Through Bicycle Wheel, Duchamp sought to introduce a new form of art that did not rely on traditional art-making materials, but rather on the conceptual power of the artist.

Due to this innovative approach, Duchamp’s Bicycle Wheel elevated ordinary, everyday objects to the realm of art. His work paved the way for other artists to explore Readymade art and essentially revolutionized the course of art history.

Duchamp’s Controversial Fountain

One of Duchamp’s most controversial works, and arguably his most famous, is Fountain. Created in 1917, Fountain was a Readymade sculpture that was criticized for its crude and vulgar subject matter.

It was simply a urinal, which Duchamp had signed with the pseudonym R. Mutt and submitted to the Society of Independent Artists for an exhibition.

Despite its visual daring and artistic significance, Fountain was rejected on the grounds that it was immoral and indecent. The Society of Independent Artists, a group that Duchamp was part of, had challenged artists to submit any work of art, regardless of subject matter or form.

However, the group had not specified that a ‘work’ be created solely as an object of art. Duchamp’s submission of Fountain challenged this, as it was an ordinary and functional object, lacking the aesthetic qualities typically required of a work of art.

Duchamp utilized Fountain to challenge the art world’s authority and its standards of what constituted a legitimate work of art. Through this work, he challenged the role of the artist and questioned the value of art-making itself.

Fountain also established Duchamp’s reputation as a provocateur and set the stage for the rise of conceptual art, which continues to shape the art world today.

Hidden Influence of Baroness Elsa von Freytag-Loringhoven

While Duchamp’s contributions to Readymade art are undoubtedly significant, he was not the only artist embracing this new art form. One person who contributed to the emergence of Readymade art was the German artist and poet, Baroness Elsa von Freytag-Loringhoven.

Born in 1874, Elsa von Freytag-Loringhoven was an avant-garde artist who lived in both Europe and America. She was an important figure in the Dada movement, collaborating with artists such as Duchamp, Man Ray, and Francis Picabia.

Von Freytag-Loringhoven also created her own Readymade sculptures. One of her most notable pieces was “God,” created in 1917.

For this work, she took a plumbing trap and added a title card that read “God” to it. Through this piece, she challenged society’s beliefs in religion by juxtaposing a utilitarian object with a religious symbol.

Although Elsa von Freytag-Loringhoven’s contributions to Readymade art were significant, her work was largely unrecognized during her life. There is also evidence to suggest that Duchamp may have appropriated some of her ideas as his own, taking credit for her work.

In recent years, however, her significant contributions have been acknowledged, and she is seen as a key figure in the development of Readymade art.

Collaborative Works and Challenging Society

Like many Dadaists, Elsa von Freytag-Loringhoven challenged the norms and values of society through her art. She explored unconventional materials and created works that were shocking and scandalous.

However, she was more interested in the process of creating art and collaboration than the commercialization of her works. Von Freytag-Loringhoven collaborated with many artists and writers throughout her career, including Duchamp.

They worked together on the sculpture, God, and there is speculation that she may have provided him with inspiration for works like Fountain. While Duchamp is often credited as the inventor of Readymade art, there is no doubt that Elsa von Freytag-Loringhoven’s unique perspective and collaborative spirit were integral to its development.


Marcel Duchamp and Baroness Elsa von Freytag-Loringhoven, both had significant influence on the development of Readymade art. Duchamp’s Bicycle Wheel and Fountain revolutionized the concept of art, while von Freytag-Loringhoven’s contributions to Readymade sculptures challenged societal norms and commercialization tendencies.

Together, they instigated a new era of art, in which everyday objects were reimagined as works of art, prompting artists to rethink what art could be. Their contributions have undoubtedly left a lasting impact on the art world, influencing countless artists to this day.

Readymade Sculpture and Surrealism

Readymade sculpture, a form of art that elevates ordinary objects to the level of art, has left a significant impact on the art world since its inception in the early 20th century. The Surrealists were among the first artists to use Readymades as a means of creating art that challenged the limits of the subconscious mind.

In this section, we will discuss the Surrealist use of Readymade sculpture and how it explored the consciousness and unconsciousness of the mind.

Surrealist Use of Readymade Sculpture

The Surrealist movement began in Paris in the 1920s, led by Andr Breton and a group of writers and artists who sought to explore the limits of the subconscious mind. They were interested in creating works of art that defied traditional understandings of the world and challenged viewers to rethink their preconceived notions.

One of the ways that the Surrealists explored these concepts was through the use of Readymades, specifically sculptures. They were fascinated by the latent connections and impulses of objects that were taken out of their original context and re-contextualized to provoke new thoughts, feelings and ideas.

One famous example of Surrealist use of Readymade sculpture is the Lobster Telephone, created by Salvador Dal in 1936. The telephone was a functional object that had a lobster attached to its receiver.

Dal used this sculpture to explore themes of desire, fear, sexuality and mortality, using the surreal combination of a crustacean and a communication device to provoke thought and emotion. The Lobster Telephone remains an iconic work of Readymade sculpture even today.

Exploring Consciousness and Unconsciousness

The Surrealists’ fascination with Readymade sculpture is rooted in their interest in exploring the consciousness and unconsciousness of the mind. By using everyday objects in their work, they sought to create a visual language that could express the complexity of the human psyche.

The Readymade sculpture, in particular, was a means of destabilizing the familiar and familiarizing the strange, creating a sense of cognitive dissonance in the viewer that activated both their conscious and unconscious perceptions. One notable way in which the Surrealists achieved this destabilization is through the creation of autonomous objects.

These are Readymades that are not merely found objects, but that have been manipulated by the artist in some way to create their own reality. The Lobster Telephone is an example of an autonomous object, as the addition of the lobster to the telephone creates a new reality that challenges the viewer’s understanding of both objects.

Later Developments and Impact

Readymade art continued to evolve after the Surrealists, taking on new forms and influences from contemporary art movements. In this section, we will discuss the Neo-Dadaists and their blurring of low and high culture, as well as Readymade art’s impact on Conceptual art.

Neo-Dadaists and Blurring of Low and High Culture

The Neo-Dadaists emerged in the 1950s, following the Dada and Surrealist movements, and further challenged traditional understandings of what art should be. They are known for their use of everyday objects, found materials and Readymades, blurring the boundary between low and high culture.

Robert Rauschenberg is a key figure of the Neo-Dadaist movement. His work, First Landing Jump, created in 1961, consists of a parachute on a canvas that is covered in paint and collaged found objects.

By combining these everyday objects with traditional artistic techniques, Rauschenberg created a new cultural language that challenged the art world’s notion of what constituted art. First Landing Jump exemplifies the blurring of high and low culture that the Neo-Dadaists were searching for, creating a commentary on consumerism, commercialization, and the nature of art itself.

Readymade Art and Conceptual Art

Conceptual art emerged in the 1960s and 1970s, building on the foundations laid by Readymade art. Unlike traditional art forms, Conceptual art focuses on the idea or concept behind the artwork, rather than on the actual physical object.

Readymade art provided a stepping stone for contemporary artists to explore the representation of a concept through various mediums. Conceptual artists challenged the boundaries between art and reality, and Readymade art played an essential role in opening up new possibilities of expression.

Artists such as Marcel Broodthaers and Joseph Kosuth used the Readymade concept to create works that questioned the art world’s preconceptions, often using objects like chairs or typewriters to raise questions about language, truth and authenticity.


Readymade sculpture continues to inspire contemporary artists, encouraging them to push the boundaries of traditional art forms. The Surrealists experimented with the Readymade sculpture to explore the complexities of the human mind, while the Neo-Dadaists embraced it to challenge the boundaries of high and low culture.

Later, conceptual artists utilized Readymades to push the boundaries of the representation of concepts. Readymade art continues to hold a significant place in the art world and continues to be celebrated for its innovative and provocative nature.

The Young British Artists

The Young British Artists (YBAs) emerged in the late 1980s and 1990s as a group of artists from Britain who gained international recognition for their provocative and challenging artworks. This section of the article will explore the revival of Readymade art by the YBAs and how Readymades became unsettling and thought-provoking works in their hands.

Revival of Readymade Art by Young British Artists

The YBAs, which included artists such as Damien Hirst and Tracey Emin, were influenced by the Dada and Surrealist movements of the early 20th century, particularly their use of Readymades. The YBAs revived these ideas and brought them into the contemporary art world with a fresh perspective.

Tracey Emin’s work, “My Bed,” created in 1998, is a prime example of the YBAs’ revival of Readymade art. The installation consisted of Emin’s own bed, surrounded by personal items such as empty bottles, dirty underwear, and cigarette butts.

Through this artwork, Emin aimed to portray a deeply personal and honest depiction of her own life and inner turmoil. The use of the bed as a Readymade object added a layer of intimacy and vulnerability to the work, challenging traditional notions of what art should be.

Damien Hirst, another prominent YBA artist, also incorporated Readymades into his work. In pieces such as “The Physical Impossibility of Death in the Mind of Someone Living” (1991), Hirst used a shark preserved in formaldehyde, suspended in a glass tank.

Through this work, Hirst explored themes of mortality, fear, and the fragility of life. The Readymade object of the shark created an unsettling and thought-provoking experience for viewers, as it confronted them with the raw reality of death.

Readymades as Unsettling and Thought-Provoking Works

The Readymades created by the YBAs were often unsettling and thought-provoking, challenging viewers to question their own beliefs and perceptions. By using mass-produced goods and placing them in unexpected situations, the artists disrupted the familiar and created a sense of unease.

This disruption often provoked a deeper engagement with the artwork and its underlying themes. One of the significant aspects that made these Readymades unsettling was the contrast between the mundane nature of everyday objects and the profound meanings that could be attributed to them.

The YBAs transformed ordinary objects into something extraordinary, forcing viewers to reevaluate their own preconceptions and assumptions about the world around them. This unsettling effect was achieved through the intentional selection and presentation of the Readymades.

The careful consideration of context and placement allowed the YBAs to nullify the original function of the objects and imbue them with new meaning. By removing an object from its expected environment and presenting it in a different context, the artists challenged viewers to reexamine the object’s purpose and significance.

Concepts and Representation in Readymade Art

Readymade art embodies various styles and concepts that further contribute to its impact and significance. This section will discuss the precepts of Readymade art, originality, visual humor, puns, aesthetic preferences, taste, mass production, and the exploration of new connections and associations.

One of the fundamental precepts of Readymade art, influenced by the Dada readymade ideology, is the notion of the artist’s selection and presentation of the object as an artwork. By choosing a specific object and artistically manipulating its context, the artist has the power to transform the object’s meaning and challenge traditional views of what is considered art.

Originality is a crucial aspect of Readymade art. Artists often strive to present familiar objects in unique and unexpected ways, stimulating the viewer’s imagination and inviting them to question the nature of the object itself.

This element of surprise encourages viewers to see the world from a fresh perspective and opens up new avenues of interpretation. Visual humor is another significant aspect of Readymade art.

Artists use puns, wit, and playful juxtapositions to create humorous and often thought-provoking experiences for the viewer. One famous example is Marcel Duchamp’s “L.H.O.O.Q,” where he altered a postcard of the Mona Lisa by adding a mustache and goatee, infusing the iconic painting with humor and subversive commentary.

Taste and aesthetics also play a role in Readymade art. Artists challenge conventional notions of taste by presenting common and mass-produced objects as objects of art.

By elevating these objects to the status of fine art, they challenge established hierarchies and notions of what is considered beautiful or valuable. Moreover, Readymade art often explores the concept of mass production and its impact on society.

By utilizing mass-produced objects, artists comment on the ubiquity and disposability of everyday items, and raise questions about consumerism, waste, and the inherent value of objects within a capitalist system. One of the most intriguing aspects of Readymade art is its ability to create new connections and provoke unconscious associations.

By recontextualizing familiar objects, the artists prompt viewers to make unexpected connections and engage with the artwork on a deeper level. This exploration of latent associations pushes the boundaries of artistic expression, expanding the possibilities for conceptual art.


The Young British Artists revived and reinvented Readymade art, infusing it with their unique perspectives and challenging the conventional notions of what art should be. Through the unsettling nature of their works, they pushed the boundaries of art, confronting viewers with thought-provoking experiences.

The YBAs’ use of Readymades served as a vehicle for exploring concepts such as originality, visual humor, taste, aesthetics, and the impact of mass production on society. Their works continue to provoke conversation and challenge perceptions, leaving a lasting impact on the contemporary art world.

Controversies and Questions Raised by Readymade Art

Readymade art has been a subject of controversy since its inception, raising questions about originality, reproduction, humor, aesthetic preferences, mass production, and conceptual representation. This section will delve deeper into the controversies and thought-provoking questions that surround Readymade art.

Issues of Originality and Reproduction

One of the central controversies surrounding Readymade art is the question of originality and the role of the artist in the creation of the artwork. Traditional notions of art emphasize the artist’s skill and creativity in producing a unique and original work.

Readymades challenge this concept by presenting everyday objects that have not been physically modified by the artist. Critics argue that Readymade art undermines the notion of the artist as a skilled craftsman, reducing their role to that of a curator or selector.

They question whether Readymades can truly be considered works of art when they are mass-produced objects that anyone can acquire. However, proponents of Readymade art argue that the artist’s act of selection and presentation is what transforms the object into art, highlighting the artist’s creative vision.

Another issue related to Readymade art is the question of reproduction. When Readymades were presented as new art objects, they were often accompanied by labels or certificates of authenticity, asserting their status as unique artworks.

However, due to the nature of Readymades as mass-produced objects, it is possible to reproduce them indefinitely. This raises questions about the fate of lost or destroyed Readymades.

If an original Readymade is destroyed, can it be replicated and remain authentic? Some argue that the idea behind the Readymade is what holds intrinsic value, rather than the specific object itself.

Therefore, reproductions of lost or destroyed Readymades may still be considered authentic if they capture the original concept.

Use of Visual Humor and Puns

Visual humor and puns are often employed in Readymade art to provoke thought and challenge conventional notions. One of the most iconic examples is Marcel Duchamp’s “L.H.O.O.Q” (1919), where he drew a mustache and goatee on a postcard reproduction of the Mona Lisa.

The alteration of such an iconic and revered work of art through humor and subversion causes viewers to question their ingrained beliefs and perceptions. Using visual humor and puns adds an additional layer of engagement to Readymade art, encouraging viewers to think critically and reconsider the objects in front of them.

By juxtaposing unexpected elements or creating visual incongruities, artists challenge the viewer’s assumptions and provoke a reevaluation of the objects’ meaning.

Aesthetic Preferences and Choice

Readymade art also raises questions about aesthetic preferences and the subjective nature of artistic choice. Traditional artistic practices often prioritize skillful execution and aesthetic beauty.

However, Readymades challenge these notions by using everyday objects that may not conform to traditional aesthetic ideals. Critics argue that Readymades challenge conventional ideas of what is considered beautiful or valuable in art.

By presenting everyday objects as art, Readymade artists question the inherent value and judgments of taste associated with art. They argue that aesthetic value is subjective and can be found in unexpected places.

The artist’s choice in selecting a Readymade object and presenting it in a specific context is crucial in Readymade art. It reflects their personal taste and adds another layer of interpretation to the artwork.

The choices made by the artist invite viewers to consider the subjective nature of aesthetics and the role of personal preference in the creative process.

Mass Production and Commodity of Beauty

The use of mass-produced objects in Readymade art raises questions about the commodification of beauty and the impact of consumer culture on artistic expression. Readymade art challenges the notion that art must be rare, precious, or handcrafted.

It suggests that value can be found in everyday, easily accessible objects. By presenting mass-produced objects as art, Readymade artists highlight the ubiquity and disposability of consumer goods.

They provoke viewers to reflect on the influence of mass production, advertising, and consumerism on societal perceptions of beauty and value.

Conceptual Representation and Thoughts

Another thought-provoking aspect of Readymade art is its ability to represent concepts and prompt contemplation. By subverting the expected function or context of an object, artists create visual displays that challenge viewers to think beyond their initial assumptions.

Readymade art invites viewers to explore new connections, consider alternative interpretations, and engage with the ideas and concepts that the artwork presents. It encourages viewers to reflect on their own thoughts, associations, and unconscious connections that may arise from encountering the Readymade.

By challenging traditional modes of representation, Readymade art expands the possibilities for conceptual exploration.


Readymade art continues to generate controversies and raise thought-provoking questions about originality, reproduction, humor, aesthetic preferences, mass production, and representation. The use of everyday objects as art challenges traditional definitions of artistic creation and the roles of artists and viewers.

By subverting expectations and recontextualizing objects, Readymade art invites individuals to question their own assumptions and perceptions. It prompts discussions about the nature of art, the influence of consumer culture, and the connection between objects and concepts.

In conclusion, Readymade art has had a profound impact on the art world, challenging traditional notions of art and pushing the boundaries of creativity. From Marcel Duchamp’s introduction of Readymades to the revival by the Young British Artists, this art form has sparked controversies and raised thought-provoking questions about originality, reproduction, choice, aesthetics, mass production, and representation.

The use of everyday objects as art has prompted us to question our assumptions, consider the power of context, and explore new connections. Readymade art teaches us that art can be found in the ordinary, inviting us to see the world with fresh eyes and engage in deeper conversations about the nature and value of art.

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