When I went to the MOMA in New York, I was excited to get to see Marcel
Duchamp’ s (1887-1968) first Readymade- class of objects he invented to challenge
assumptions about what constitutes a work of art.
Duchamp chose two mass-produced parts- a Metal bicycle wheel mounted on a
painted wooden kitchen stool, 51 x 25 x 16 1/2" (129.5 x 63.5 x 41.9 cm) and put them
together to create a type of non-functional machine. A “ Readymade” is what Duchamp
dubbed any object purchased "as a sculpture already made."
The Bicycle Wheel sculpture is composed of lines and shapes. The thin lines
which are inside the circular shape of the wheel, which has clear boundaries, are in two
separate planes. From the circular positive shapes which are the center of the wheel two
separate planes emerge, both meeting at the edge of the larger circle. There is a negative
shape that emerges within the wheel.
The geometric lines inside the wheel have hard straight edges and all are spaced
into the same angle and distance apart. Because the wheel is clearly mass-produced and
made by a machine, the texture of the metal is smooth and the visual texture is shiny and
even, reflecting light uniformly. The tire has a different rough texture. There is a pattern
which emerges in the design, because the treads are evenly spaced throughout.
The stool has more rounded corners and more of organic or biomorphic form. The
work uses only different intensities or saturations of black and white. This also lends to
an impersonal feel. The overall motif or thematic element that the piece embodies is to
challenge assumptions about what constitutes a piece of art.