2017 will mark the 100th anniversary of the day Marcel Duchamp walked into the Society of Independent Artists lugging a porcelain urinal he had purchased at 5th Avenue’s J. L. Mott Iron Works and submitted it as a “readymade” sculpture. Duchamp’s radical and audacious gesture was met, at the time, with shock and indignation—it was literally hidden away behind a screen during the Society’s 1917 exhibition—but remains the primary touchstone for much contemporary sculpture. Contrary to the negative reaction that Duchamp received, we’ve now come to not only accept, but to expect sculptural artwork that appropriate commercial items and focusses on setting unexpected elements in juxtaposition with one another.
The artist’s commodity items, stopped in their commercial trajectories and frozen in the art gallery, represent not only the art-historical strategies that allowed them to be placed them there—they also represent the radical transformation, in real time, of the way we see and experience the world at large.
As Frank Stella said of his minimalist paintings from the period, “What you see is what you see.”