Beginning in 1913 Duchamp challenged accepted artistic standards by selecting mass-produced, functional objects from everyday life and designating them as works of art. These sculptures, which he called "readymades," were aimed at subverting traditional notions of skill, uniqueness, and beauty, boldly declaring that an artist could create simply by making choices. Duchamp purchased the first version of this work in a hardware store in 1915, signed and dated the shovel, and hung it on display from his studio ceiling. Its title, In Advance of the Broken Arm, playfully alludes to the objects intended purpose.
Gallery label from 2016.
To make In Advance of the Broken Arm, Marcel Duchamp selected a snow shovel, hung it from the ceiling of his studio, and called it art. His Readymades—mass-produced, functional objects he designated as art—challenged many accepted assumptions and traditions, namely that art should reflect an artist’s skills, or even be handcrafted by the artist. Duchamp asserted that an artist could create simply by making choices. His Readymades also aimed at shifting viewers’ engagement with works of art from what Duchamp called the “retinal” (pleasing to the eye) to the “intellectual” (in “the service of the mind”), subverting the traditional notion that beauty is a defining characteristic of art.
Duchamp frequently assigned humorous titles to his Readymades. In Advance of the Broken Arm refers playfully to the function of a snow shovel: to remove snow from the ground. It assumes that without the shovel to remove the snow, one might slip and fall and even break an arm.