The term “readymade” first appeared in a letter Marcel Duchamp wrote in 1915 to his sister, Suzanne Duchamp, herself an artist. He was living in New York; she was in Paris. He invited her to collaborate in creating a “Readymade, remotely,” by inscribing and signing a metal bottle rack he had left behind in his Paris studio “après Marcel Duchamp” (“after Marcel Duchamp”). By designating mass-produced, utilitarian objects such as bottle racks, bicycle wheels, or snow shovels as readymade art, Marcel Duchamp challenged centuries of thinking about the artist’s role as a skilled creator of original handmade works.
The Duchamps were joined by like-minded artists—including Man Ray and Francis Picabia—who all upended conventional notions of what art can be. Animated by a finely honed sense of the absurd, these artists both embraced and critiqued modernity, filling their works with references to the industrial technologies, mass-produced objects, and machines that increasingly defined contemporary life.