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Marcel Duchamp and the Readymade

Explore the provocative readymades of Marcel Duchamp.

In Advance of the Broken Arm

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

1964. Wood and galvanized-iron snow shovel, 52" (132 cm) high

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.1

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.

Marcel Duchamp, quoted in H. H. Arnason and Marla F. Prather, History of Modern Art: Painting, Sculpture, Architecture, Photography, 4th ed. (New York: Harry N. Abrams, 1998), 274

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.

Did You Know?
“An ordinary object,” Duchamp argued, could be “elevated to the dignity of a work of art by the mere choice of an artist.” Calling attention to this distinction, Duchamp titled the first version of this work, from 1915, In Advance of the Broken Arm/(from) Marcel Duchamp. The shovel is not by Marcel Duchamp, but, rather the work of art is the idea conceived, which comes from him.