Actually, he called it a readymade and he had already made a few at that point in his career — one from a wine rack, another from a bicycle wheel — armed with a notion that a prefabricated object could be elevated to the level of high art. Amazingly, almost a century later, the art world is still scratching its head, trying to process the simple gesture that generations of 20th century artists would adopt and adapt for a variety of purposes.
"I feel like at this point, the idea of Duchamp's readymade has become a bit shop-worn amongst contemporary artists," curator Dean Daderko explained to CultureMap during a tour of his debut exhibition for the Contemporary Arts Museum Houston. Titled It is what it is. Or is it?, the show examines the legacy of Duchamp's enigmatic gesture in today's art.
One of the first pieces that caught our attention was a labyrinth of upright LP records taped together by Peruvian-born artist William Cordova in a sort of maze for unusually large lab rats.
"Part of the reason it's shop-worn, however, has to do with people looking at the readymade as sculpture. I wanted to move the dialogue away from that so we can gain the possibility of looking at it less as a static sculptural object and more as something like a conceptual exercise."
One of the first pieces that caught our attention was a labyrinth of upright LP records taped together by Peruvian-born artist William Cordova in a sort of maze for unusually large lab rats. The music selection's not half bad, with familiar albums ranging from Diana Ross' eponymous 1980 classic to personal favorites like Hall & Oates' Private Eyes.
Through the lens of "conceptual exercise," the work came alive as Daderko explained the manner in which the LPs were "stolen from an unnamed Ivy League institution" in retaliation for the university's decades-long refusal to return a collection of Inca artifacts taken from Peru during an archaeological excavation. One record symbolizes a single item.
"The images on the records function as a portal for viewers," noted Cordova, who briefly joined the gallery tour to elaborate upon the piece, titled Laberintos (pa' octavio paz y gaspar yanga).
The exhibit is filled with familiar objects and images, creating a sort of garage sale atmosphere that makes you want to know the secret histories of each piece.
"A lot of people might come into the piece through a sense of nostalgia," Cordova continued. "The records allow different types of people to come into the work, people who might be less interested in art than they are in music or people who might not be interested in coming to a institution like this.
"It kind of catches viewers with their guards down."
As a whole, the exhibit is filled with familiar objects and images, creating a sort of garage sale atmosphere that makes you want to know the secret histories of each piece.
Along the front wall, a row of flags tightly wrapped around their poles by artist Faycal Baghriche confronts notions of nationhood. Houston painter Rachel Hecker takes pictures of Viggo Mortensen and Pink Floyd's David Gilmour and airbrushes them into Jesus-like portraits. Patrick Killoran puts a regular old cooler to use for a rumination on time and discovery that requires a refill of ice every few days.