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Marcel Duchamp and the Readymade

Explore the provocative readymades of Marcel Duchamp.


Bicycle Wheel

Marcel Duchamp
(American, born France. 1887–1968)

1951. Metal wheel mounted on painted wood stool, 51 x 25 x 16 1/2" (129.5 x 63.5 x 41.9 cm)

“In 1913,” recalled Marcel Duchamp, “I had the happy idea to fasten a bicycle wheel to a kitchen stool and watch it turn.”1 The result, Bicycle Wheel, is the first of Duchamp’s readymades—objects (sometimes manufactured or mass-produced) selected by the artist from and designated as art. Most of Duchamp’s readymades were individual objects that he repositioned or signed and called art, but Bicycle Wheel is what he called an “assisted readymade,” made by combining more than one utilitarian item to form a work of art.

John Elderfield, ed., Studies in Modern Art 2: Essays on Assemblage (New York: The Museum of Modern Art, 1992), 135

A term coined by Marcel Duchamp in 1915 to describe prefabricated, often mass-produced objects isolated from their functional context and elevated to the status of art by the mere act of an artist’s selection and designation.

Did You Know?
According to Carroll Janis, his father, New York gallerist Sidney Janis, found the bicycle wheel and fork in Paris in 1950, while the stool was found in Brooklyn. Duchamp put them together to create this, the third version of Bicycle Wheel. The first, now lost, was made in 1913, almost 40 years earlier. Because the materials Duchamp selected to be readymades were mass-produced, he did not consider any readymade to be an “original.”

Freewheelin’
When Bicycle Wheel was first displayed, Duchamp encouraged viewers to spin the wheel. Although he claimed to select objects for his readymades without regard to beauty, he said, “To see that wheel turning was very soothing, very comforting…I enjoyed looking at it, just as I enjoy looking at the flames dancing in a fireplace.”

Multimedia

LISTEN UP!
AUDIO: Duchamp and curator Ann Temkin on Bicycle Wheel

LISTEN UP!
AUDIO: Detailed visual description of Bicycle Wheel

VIDEO: Teaching Tips from School Programs Educator Jackie Delamatre

VIDEO: Teens ask art historian Joachim Pissarro: “What was the Public Response to Bicycle Wheel?”