(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 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.
The work in MoMA’s collection is the third version of Bicycle Wheel. The first, now lost, was made nearly 40 years earlier, in 1913. Because the materials Duchamp selected to be Readymades were mass-produced, he did not consider any Readymade to be an original.
A term coined by Marcel Duchamp in 1915 to describe prefabricated, often mass-produced objects isolated from their intended use and elevated to the status of art by the artist choosing and designating them as such. The term “assisted Readymade” refers to works of this type whose components have been combined or modified by the artist.
An element or substance out of which something can be made or composed.
When Bicycle Wheel was first displayed, Duchamp encouraged viewers to spin its 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.”
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