Reinventing the Wheel: the Readymade Century

To mark 100 years since the Bicycle Wheel (1913) – that industrial off-cut that Duchamp dared to call art, Monash University Museum of Art (MUMA) are celebrating a century of the ‘readymade’ in ‘Reinventing the Wheel’, an exhibition that draws together works that utilise found objects. On display are over 40 artists from Australia and abroad – a clan of jokers, radicals and dedicated artists who have expanded the definition of art making in ways that have variously reviled, amused, and profoundly changed the way artists and consumers consider art.

Charlotte Day, Director of MUMA and one of the curators of this exhibition comments on the significance of the show for the museum, who she says have not previously shown anything quite on this scale. ‘This is the most ambitious exhibition that MUMA has yet presented, including works that establish the historical moment of the ‘readymade’ in Europe and its reception in the USA and in Australia. Most exciting is the opportunity for living artists to see their work as part of this ongoing history,” she says.

When a urinal was presented to a New York gallery in 1917 for an upcoming exhibition, the organisers threw it away. Such was the reaction to one of the earliest examples of the found object or ‘readymade’ in art, Fountain by Marcel Duchamp. On display at MUMA is its predecessor, Bicycle Wheel, the upturned bicycle that threw the artistic community into a spin. The use of a mundane, discarded object in the context of an artwork was a horrifying moment for classical purists, and a revolutionary one in the history of art.

Juxtaposing seminal works by a number of international artists with contemporary Australian practice, MUMA deftly sweeps the timeline from Duchamp to the present, beginning with two key works by Duchamp: Bicycle wheel (1913) and Bottle dryer (1914). As we progress into the twentieth century, works by Meret Oppenheim represent the concept of the Surrealist object. The use of the ‘readymade’ in Minimalist and Pop Art is explored through the works of such artists as Man Ray, Andy Warhol and John Cage, and younger generations of artists including Martin Creed, Simon Denny, Matthew Griffin, and Ricky Swallow reveal the development of the ‘readymade’ in current international art. Oppenheim’s Squirrel (1969) is a highlight – the artist’s famous taste for mixing the ‘cute’ and uncomfortable clearly evident in her classic use of fur.

Australia is very well represented in the exhibition, with Aleks Danko, Greatest Hits, James Lynch, Andrew Liversidge, Robert MacPherson, John Nixon, Lou Hubbard, Rosslynd Piggott, Stuart Ringholt and Charlie Sofo, all displaying their varying forms of ‘readymade’ works. The most interesting thing about this exhibition, and a testament to the excellent curatorial direction of the MUMA team, is this comparison of key works in the canon of international contemporary art, and the output of contemporary Australian artists. The exhibition is indeed something of a homage to Duchamp, but more importantly, it puts the works of such artists as Danko and Griffin in context. The Australian context, of course, is self evident – but by placing these objects alongside those of Duchamp and Oppenheim, we see both progress and lineage.

To accompany the exhibition, MUMA have a series of public programs planned, as well as a full catalogue including scholarly essays. The exhibition is a highly ambitious undertaking for the museum, but one that will no doubt be very successful, with an exceptional calibre of artists, and exceptional curatorial direction.

Monash University Museum of Art
To December 14, 2013

Aleks Danko, Art stuffing, 1970, synthetic polymer paint on paper, stuffed hessian bag, 75 x 58 x 30cm
Courtesy the Art Gallery of New South Wales – John Kaldor Family Collection

Meret Oppenheim, Eichhörnchen (Squirrel), 1969, fur, glass, plastic foam, 23 x 17.5 x 8cm
Collection: National Gallery of Australia, Canberra, Purchased 2008
© Meret Oppenheim. Pro Litteris/Licensed by Viscopy, 2013

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