Found object

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Marcel Duchamp, Fountain, 1917. Photograph by Alfred Stieglitz Marcel Duchamp, 1917, Fountain, photograph by Alfred Stieglitz.jpg
Marcel Duchamp, Fountain, 1917. Photograph by Alfred Stieglitz

A found object (a loan translation from the French objet trouvé), or found art, [1] [2] [3] is art created from undisguised, but often modified, items or products that are not normally considered materials from which art is made, often because they already have a non-art function. [4] Pablo Picasso first publicly utilized the idea when he pasted a printed image of chair caning onto his painting titled Still Life with Chair Caning (1912). Marcel Duchamp is thought to have perfected the concept several years later when he made a series of ready-mades, consisting of completely unaltered everyday objects selected by Duchamp and designated as art. [5] The most famous example is Fountain (1917), a standard urinal purchased from a hardware store and displayed on a pedestal, resting on its side. In its strictest sense the term "ready-made" is applied exclusively to works produced by Marcel Duchamp, [6] who borrowed the term from the clothing industry (French: prêt-à-porter, lit.' ready-to-wear ') while living in New York, and especially to works dating from 1913 to 1921.


Found objects derive their identity as art from the designation placed upon them by the artist and from the social history that comes with the object. This may be indicated by either its anonymous wear and tear (as in collages of Kurt Schwitters) or by its recognizability as a consumer icon (as in the sculptures of Haim Steinbach). The context into which it is placed is also a highly relevant factor. The idea of dignifying commonplace objects in this way was originally a shocking challenge to the accepted distinction between what was considered art as opposed to not art. Although it may now be accepted in the art world as a viable practice, it continues to arouse questioning, as with the Tate Gallery's Turner Prize exhibition of Tracey Emin's My Bed , which consisted literally of a transposition of her unmade and disheveled bed, surrounded by shed clothing and other bedroom detritus, directly from her bedroom to the Tate. In this sense the artist gives the audience time and a stage to contemplate an object. As such, found objects can prompt philosophical reflection in the observer ranging from disgust to indifference to nostalgia to empathy.

As an art form, found objects tend to include the artist's output—at the very least an idea about it, i.e. the artist's designation of the object as art—which is nearly always reinforced with a title. There is usually some degree of modification of the found object, although not always to the extent that it cannot be recognized, as is the case with ready-mades. Recent critical theory, however, would argue that the mere designation and relocation of any object, ready-mades included, constitutes a modification of the object because it changes our perception of its utility, its lifespan, or its status.



Alphonse Allais, Des souteneurs encore dans la force de l'age et le ventre dans l'herbe boivent de l'absinthe, carnage curtain, before 1897. Alphonse Allais.jpg
Alphonse Allais, Des souteneurs encore dans la force de l'âge et le ventre dans l'herbe boivent de l'absinthe, carnage curtain, before 1897.

One curator considers East Asian scholar's rocks to be early examples of found objects. Found and collected in natural settings, the rocks are changed only minimally for display, seldom beyond the addition of a display stand, and are meant to be contemplated as idealized representations of nature. Geological processes, chief among them erosion, give the rocks their distinctive qualities, rather than any modification by an artist or artisan. [7]

In 2017-2018, the French expert Johann Naldi found and identified seventeen unpublished works in a private collection, classified as a national treasure on May 7, 2021 by the French Ministry of Culture, [8] including Des souteneurs encore dans la force de l'âge et le ventre dans l'herbe by Alphonse Allais, consisting of a green carriage curtain suspended from a wooden cylinder. [9] This work was certainly exhibited at the Incoherents exhibitions in Paris between 1883 and 1893. According to Johann Naldi, this work is the oldest known readymade and was a source of inspiration for Marcel Duchamp. [10]

Duchamp's "readymades"

Marcel Duchamp coined the term ready-made in 1915 to describe a common object that had been selected and not materially altered in any way. Duchamp assembled Bicycle Wheel in 1913 by attaching a common front wheel and fork to the seat of a common stool. This was not long after his Nude Descending a Staircase was attracting the attention of critics at the International Exhibition of Modern Art. In 1917, Fountain , a urinal signed with the pseudonym "R. Mutt", and generally attributed to Duchamp, confounded the art world. In the same year, Duchamp indicated in a letter to his sister, Suzanne Duchamp, that a female friend was centrally involved in the conception of this work. As he writes: "One of my female friends who had adopted the pseudonym Richard Mutt sent me a porcelain urinal as a sculpture." [11] Irene Gammel argues that the piece is more in line with the scatological aesthetics of Duchamp's friend, the Baroness Elsa von Freytag-Loringhoven, than Duchamp's. [12] The other possible, and more probable, "female friend" is Louise Norton (later Varèse), who contributed an essay to The Blind Man discussing Fountain. [13] Norton, who recently had separated from her husband, was living at the time in an apartment owned by her parents at 110 West 88th Street in New York City, and this address is partially discernible (along with "Richard Mutt") on the paper entry ticket attached to the object, as seen in Stieglitz's photograph. [14]

Research by Rhonda Roland Shearer indicates that Duchamp may have fabricated his found objects. Exhaustive research of mundane items like snow shovels and bottle racks in use at the time failed to reveal identical matches. The urinal, upon close inspection, is non-functional. However, there are accounts of Walter Arensberg and Joseph Stella being with Duchamp when he purchased the original Fountain at J. L. Mott Iron Works. [15]

Later development

An Oak Tree by Michael Craig-Martin; 1973 An Oak Tree (conceptual art installation).jpg
An Oak Tree by Michael Craig-Martin; 1973

The use of found objects was quickly taken up by the Dada movement, being used by Man Ray and Francis Picabia who combined it with traditional art by sticking combs onto a painting to represent hair. [16] A well-known work by Man Ray is Gift (1921), which is an iron with nails sticking out from its flat underside, thus rendering it useless. [17] Jose de Creeft began making large-scale assemblages in Paris, such as Picador (1925), made of scrap metal, rubber and other materials.[ citation needed ]

The combination of several found objects is a type of ready-made sometimes known as an assemblage. Another such example is Marcel Duchamp's Why Not Sneeze, Rose Sélavy? , consisting of a small birdcage containing a thermometer, cuttlebone, and 151 marble cubes resembling sugar cubes.

By the time of the Surrealist Exhibition of Objects in 1936 a whole range of sub-classifications had been devised—including found objects, ready-made objects, perturbed objects, mathematical objects, natural objects, interpreted natural objects, incorporated natural objects, Oceanic objects, American objects and Surrealist objects. At this time Surrealist leader, André Breton, defined ready-mades as "manufactured objects raised to the dignity of works of art through the choice of the artist".

In the 1960s found objects were present in both the Fluxus movement and in pop art. Joseph Beuys exhibited modified found objects, such as rocks with a hole in them stuffed with fur and fat, a van with sledges trailing behind it, and a rusty girder.

In 1973, Michael Craig-Martin claimed of his work An Oak Tree , "It's not a symbol. I have changed the physical substance of the glass of water into that of an oak tree. I didn't change its appearance. The actual oak tree is physically present, but in the form of a glass of water." [18]

Other types of found objects

Commodity sculpture

In the 1980s, a variation of found objects emerged called commodity sculpture where commercially mass-produced items would be arranged in the art gallery as sculpture. The focus of this variety of sculpture was on the marketing, display of products. These artists included Jeff Koons, Haim Steinbach, and Ashley Bickerton (who later moved on to do other kinds of work).

One of Jeff Koons' early signature works was Two Ball 50/50 Tank, 1985, which consisted of two basketballs floating in water, which half-fills a glass tank.

Trash art

Junk art at Oak Street Beach Beachjunkart.jpg
Junk art at Oak Street Beach
Art made from trash found on the streets of New York City by artist Bobby Puleo (2021) Bobby Puleo art 2 26 2021.jpg
Art made from trash found on the streets of New York City by artist Bobby Puleo (2021)

A specific subgenre of found objects is known as trash art or junk art. [19] These works primarily comprise components that have been discarded. Often they come quite literally from the trash. One example of trash art is trashion, fashion made from trash. Marina DeBris takes trash from the beach and creates dresses, vests, and other clothes. Many organizations sponsor junk art competitions. Trash art may also have a social purpose, of raising awareness of trash. [20]

A permanent yet evolving example of junk art on Highway 66 near Amboy, California Tennisshoes.jpg
A permanent yet evolving example of junk art on Highway 66 near Amboy, California

Creating and using trash art can expose people to hazardous substances. For instance, older computer and electronic components can contain lead (in solder and insulation). Jewelry made from these items may require careful handling. In France, trash art became known as "Poubellisme", art made from contents of "poubelles" (trash bins).[ citation needed ]

Artists who create art from trash include:

In music

Found objects can also be used as musical instruments. [23] It is an important part of the musique concrète genre.

Found sounds have been used by acts including Cop Shoot Cop, Radiohead, [24] Four Tet, [25] The Books, [26] and Björk. [27] The musician Cosmo Sheldrake, who uses found sounds from the natural world in his music, has stated that incorporating the "soundscape" of ecosystems into music may be an effective means of communicating important messages about issues such as climate change. [28]


The found object in art has been a subject of polarised debate in Britain throughout the 1990s due to the use of it by the Young British Artists. It has been rejected by the general public and journalists, and supported by public museums and art critics. In his 2000 Dimbleby lecture, Who's afraid of modern art, Sir Nicholas Serota advocated such kinds of "difficult" art, while quoting opposition such as the Daily Mail headline "For 1,000 years art has been one of our great civilising forces. Today, pickled sheep and soiled beds threaten to make barbarians of us all". A more unexpected rejection in 1999 came from artistssome of whom had previously worked with found objectswho founded the Stuckists group and issued a manifesto denouncing such work in favour of a return to painting with the statement "Ready-made art is a polemic of materialism". [29]


Many modern artists are notable for their use of found objects in their art. These include the following:

See also

Related Research Articles

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Dada</span> Avant-garde art movement in the early 20th century

Dada or Dadaism was an art movement of the European avant-garde in the early 20th century, with early centres in Zürich, Switzerland, at the Cabaret Voltaire. New York Dada began c. 1915, and after 1920 Dada flourished in Paris. Dadaist activities lasted until the mid 1920s.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Marcel Duchamp</span> French painter, sculptor, and chess player (1887–1968)

Henri-Robert-Marcel Duchamp was a French painter, sculptor, chess player, and writer whose work is associated with Cubism, Dada, and conceptual art. He is commonly regarded, along with Pablo Picasso and Henri Matisse, as one of the three artists who helped to define the revolutionary developments in the plastic arts in the opening decades of the 20th century, responsible for significant developments in painting and sculpture. He has had an immense impact on 20th- and 21st-century art, and a seminal influence on the development of conceptual art. By the time of World War I, he had rejected the work of many of his fellow artists as "retinal", intended only to please the eye. Instead, he wanted to use art to serve the mind.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Suzanne Duchamp</span> French painter

Suzanne Duchamp-Crotti was a French Dadaist painter, collagist, sculptor, and draughtsman. Her work was significant to the development of Paris Dada and modernism and her drawings and collages explore fascinating gender dynamics. Due to the fact that she was a woman in the male prominent Dada movement, she was rarely considered an artist in her own right. She constantly lived in the shadows of her famous older brothers, who were also artists, or she was referred to as "the wife of." Her work in painting turns out to be significantly influential to the landscape of Dada in Paris and to the interests of women in Dada. She took a large role as an avant-garde artist, working through a career that spanned five decades, during a turbulent time of great societal change. She used her work to express certain subject matter such as personal concerns about modern society, her role as a modern woman artist, and the effects of the First World War. Her work often weaves painting, collage, and language together in complex ways.

Society of Independent Artists was an association of American artists founded in 1916 and based in New York.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Anti-art</span> Art rejecting prior definitions of art

Anti-art is a loosely used term applied to an array of concepts and attitudes that reject prior definitions of art and question art in general. Somewhat paradoxically, anti-art tends to conduct this questioning and rejection from the vantage point of art. The term is associated with the Dada movement and is generally accepted as attributable to Marcel Duchamp pre-World War I around 1914, when he began to use found objects as art. It was used to describe revolutionary forms of art. The term was used later by the Conceptual artists of the 1960s to describe the work of those who claimed to have retired altogether from the practice of art, from the production of works which could be sold.

<i>Fountain</i> (Duchamp) 1917 sculpture by Marcel Duchamp

Fountain is a readymade sculpture by Marcel Duchamp in 1917, consisting of a porcelain urinal signed "R. Mutt". In April 1917, an ordinary piece of plumbing chosen by Duchamp was submitted for an exhibition of the Society of Independent Artists, the inaugural exhibition by the Society to be staged at the Grand Central Palace in New York. When explaining the purpose of his readymade sculpture, Duchamp stated they are "everyday objects raised to the dignity of a work of art by the artist's act of choice." In Duchamp's presentation, the urinal's orientation was altered from its usual positioning. Fountain was not rejected by the committee, since Society rules stated that all works would be accepted from artists who paid the fee, but the work was never placed in the show area. Following that removal, Fountain was photographed at Alfred Stieglitz's studio, and the photo published in the Dada journal The Blind Man. The original has been lost.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Work of art</span> Artistic creation of aesthetic value

A work of art, artwork, art piece, piece of art or art object is an artistic creation of aesthetic value. Except for "work of art", which may be used of any work regarded as art in its widest sense, including works from literature and music, these terms apply principally to tangible, physical forms of visual art:

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Elsa von Freytag-Loringhoven</span> German artist and poet (1874 –1927)

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Art intervention is an interaction with a previously existing artwork, audience, venue/space or situation. It is in the category of conceptual art and is commonly a form of performance art. It is associated with the Viennese Actionists, the Dada movement and Neo-Dadaists. Stuckists have made extensive use of it to affect perceptions of artworks they oppose and as a protest against existing interventions.

<i>God</i> (sculpture)

God is a circa 1917 sculpture by New York Dadaists Morton Livingston Schamberg and Elsa von Freytag-Loringhoven. It is an example of readymade art, a term coined by Marcel Duchamp in 1915 to describe his found objects. God is a 10½ inch high cast iron plumbing trap turned upside down and mounted on a wooden mitre box. The work is now in the Arensberg Collection in the Philadelphia Museum of Art.

<i>Portrait of Marcel Duchamp</i>

Portrait of Marcel Duchamp is a circa 1920–1922 work of art by Baroness Elsa von Freytag-Loringhoven. It is an example of assemblage, made of an amalgamation of broken wine glasses, assorted feathers, tree twigs, and other unidentifiable objects in reference to Marcel Duchamp, who created various ready-mades beginning in 1913.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Readymades of Marcel Duchamp</span> Series of artworks by Marcel Duchamp

The readymades of Marcel Duchamp are ordinary manufactured objects that the artist selected and modified, as an antidote to what he called "retinal art". By simply choosing the object and repositioning or joining, titling and signing it, the found object became art.

<i>Bottle Rack</i> 1914 Readymade artwork by Marcel Duchamp

The Bottle Rack is a proto-Dada artwork created in 1914 by Marcel Duchamp. Duchamp labeled the piece a "readymade", a term he used to describe his collection of ordinary, manufactured objects not commonly associated with art. The readymades did not have the serious tone of European Dada works, which criticized the violence of World War I, and instead focused on a more nonsensical nature, chosen purely on the basis of a "visual indifference".

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Appropriation (art)</span> Use of pre-existing objects or images with little or no transformation applied to them

Appropriation in art is the use of pre-existing objects or images with little or no transformation applied to them. The use of appropriation has played a significant role in the history of the arts. In the visual arts, to appropriate means to properly adopt, borrow, recycle or sample aspects of human-made visual culture. Notable in this respect are the Readymades of Marcel Duchamp.

<i>In Advance of the Broken Arm</i> Readymade by Marcel Duchamp

In Advance of the Broken Arm, also called Prelude to a Broken Arm, is a 1915 sculpture by Dada artist Marcel Duchamp that consisted of a regular snow shovel with "from Marcel Duchamp 1915" painted on the handle. One explanation for the title is that without the shovel to remove snow, one might fall and break an arm. This type of humor is not atypical of dadaist work.

The Fountain Archive is a processual art project of the French conceptual artist Saâdane Afif which started in 2008/ 2009. The project includes an ongoing series of framed pages which contain one or several reproductions of the work Fountain by Marcel Duchamp. Here Afif uses the concept of the Objet trouvés and tears off the pages from different publications. For each publication and pages Afif normally makes only one piece for the Fountain Archives, which is created as a work of art.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Louise Varèse</span> American translator

Louise Varèse, also credited as Louise Norton or Louise Norton-Varèse, was an American writer, editor, and translator of French literature who was involved with New York Dadaism.

<i>Tulip Hysteria Co-ordinating</i> Fictitious work by Marcel Duchamp

Tulip Hysteria Co-ordinating is a fictitious work of art by Marcel Duchamp.

<i>Belle Haleine, Eau de Voilette</i> Artwork by Marcel Duchamp, with the assistance of Man Ray

Belle Haleine, Eau de Voilette is a work of art by Marcel Duchamp, with the assistance of Man Ray. First conceived in 1920, created spring of 1921, Belle Haleine is one of the Readymades of Marcel Duchamp, or more specifically a rectified ready-made.


  1. Stribling, Mary Lou (1970). Art from Found Materials, Discarded and Natural. Crown Publishing Group. p. 2. ISBN   0-517-54307-9 . Retrieved 25 June 2021. Found Art is a term coined to describe works which are composed in part or entirety of natural or salvaged objects.
  2. Dayton, Eric (2 February 1999). Art and Interpretation: An Anthology of Readings in Aesthetics and the Philosophy of Art. Broadview Press. p. 259. ISBN   1-551-11190-X . Retrieved 25 June 2021. On the surface, anyway, there is no mystery about the making of the great bulk of works of artifactual art; they are crafted in various traditional ways—painted, sculpted, and the like. (Later, I will attempt to go below the surface a bit.) There is, however, a puzzle about the artifactuality of some relatively recent works of art: Duchamp's readymades, found art, and the like. Some deny that such things are art because, they claim, they are not artifacts made by artists. It can, I think, be shown that they are the artifacts of artists. (In Art and the Aesthetic I claimed, I now think mistakenly, that artifactuality is conferred on things such as Duchamp's Fountain and found art, but I will not discuss this here.)
  3. Tankersley, Leeana (14 June 2009). Found Art: Discovering Beauty in Foreign Places. Zondervan. p. 2. ISBN   978-0-310-56182-8 . Retrieved 25 June 2021. ... That is what we call found art—a genre of art that started umpteen years ago with a guy in New York who took a urinal and cleverly refashioned it into a fountain. Found art is created when odd, disparate, unlikely, even long-abandoned castoffs are put together with other similarly unexpected remnants to create something new and, if all goes as planned, lovely.
  4. definition of Objet trouvé at the MoMA Art Terms page
  5. Chilvers, Ian & Glaves-Smith, John eds., Dictionary of Modern and Contemporary Art, Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2009. pp. 587–588
  6. Marcel Duchamp and the Readymade, MoMA Learning
  7. Dodson, Donna (August 2021). "Interpreting the natural: contemporary visions of scholars' rocks". Creative Arts in Education and Therapy (CAET). 7 (1): 11–13. doi:10.15212/CAET/2021/7/1. S2CID   238719901. They embody the original impulse to elevate a found object to fine art status, not unlike a "readymade," where a commonplace artifact is viewed as art.
  8. Philippe, Dagen (10 May 2021). "Dix-neuf œuvres des Arts incohérents classées trésor national". Le Monde.
  9. Philippe, Dagen (3 February 2021). "17 œuvres des Arts incohérents : un trésor redécouvert dans une malle". Le Monde.
  10. Johann, Naldi (April 2022). Arts incohérents, discoveries and new perspectives. Paris: Lienart. pp. 164–183. ISBN   978-2-35906-366-0.
  11. Duchamp, Marcel trans. and qtd. in Gammel, Irene. Baroness Elsa: Gender, Dada and Everyday Modernity. Cambridge, Massachusetts: MIT Press, 2002, 224.
  12. Gammel, Baroness Elsa, 224–225.
  13. "Buddha of the Bathroom", The Blind Man , no. 2, May 1917, pp. 5-6.
  14. Francis M. Naumann, New York Dada, 1915-23 (New York: Harry N. Abrams, 1994), p. 239, note 17.
  15. Shearer, Rhonda Roland: "Marcel Duchamp's Impossible Bed and Other 'Not' Readymade Objects: A Possible Route of Influence From Art To Science", 1997.
  16. "Tate Collection - The Handsome Pork-Butcher by Francis Picabia". Tate Gallery . 16 May 2011. Archived from the original on 6 July 2011. Retrieved 6 November 2022.
  17. "Gift (1921)". Man Ray Photo. Retrieved 6 November 2022.
  18. "There's No Need to be Afraid of the Present", The Independent , 25 June 2001
  19. Marshall Raeburn Found Object Art: "Stuff I Made from Junk", 2009.
  20. Heal the Bay. News and Blog feature story, no date given. "Styrofoam Cups: From Trash to Fashion."
  21. "About". franciscodepajaro (in Spanish). Retrieved 3 February 2021.
  22. Heath, Nicola (6 November 2022). "Australian artist Paul Yore speaks about censorship in art, queer culture and Catholic kitsch as ACCA exhibition surveys his career". ABC News. Australian Broadcasting Corporation . Retrieved 6 November 2022.
  23. See The Music of Man, Y. Menuhin and C. W. Davis, Methuen, Toronto, 1979
  24. Randall, Mac (12 September 2000). Exit Music: The Radiohead Story. Delta. pp. 71–73. ISBN   0-385-33393-5.
  25. "Four Tet Looks Back on 'Rounds'". Rolling Stone. Retrieved 2 March 2016.
  26. "The Books: Making Music Through Found Sound". NPR. Retrieved 21 March 2016.
  27. "Bjork emerges from her internal battle, with strings attached". The Sydney Morning Herald. 9 December 2015. Retrieved 2 March 2016.
  28. "At the Intersection of Art, Science and Community". Texas Geosciences. Retrieved 8 September 2021.
  29. Guru, Ella. "The Stuckists manifesto".
  30. "Arman, 76, Found-Object Sculptor, Dies" by Ken Johnson, The New York Times , 24 October 2005
  31. Five Feet of Colorful Tools, 1962, MoMA collection
  32. Official Louis (Lou) Hirshman website
  33. "Fool's House, 1962". Archived from the original on 31 December 2012. Retrieved 7 September 2012.
  34. One and Three Chairs, 1965, MoMA collection
  35. A Magical Metamorphosis of the Ordinary