This introduction/essay was originally published on the wordpress page of my ongoing project RICHARD. Its first version dates back to early 2009.
Notes on Richard
by Marco Antonini
Richard (www.rdotmdot.wordpress.com) is a continuously updated, online catalog of readymade images, objects and ideas. The project wishes to focus the attention of the public on some of the most constructed and ritualized dynamics of the art world, via one of its most discussed and, for many reasons, cliché formats: the readymade. The artworks collected in Richard have been conceived by contemporary visual artists worldwide, as well as by people of other trades and professions. Richard’s readymades have been “Made Available”, in the sense that their circulation and (wherever possible and appropriate) reproduction is encouraged and facilitated by both Richard and the authors.
Practically speaking, Richard entries will consist of found and relatively unadulterated images, objects, videos, sounds, software, files, texts etc., designated as readymade artwork. Upon being included in Richard’s “catalog”, each entry will be separated from all details regarding its provenance, and identified by its title, code number and a description written by the designating individual or collective to address the object and its new potential as readymade artwork. The name of the designating individual will be added to a list of contributors on the project’s website.
In a second phase, Richard will invite guests to assume a curatorial role and propose exhibitions of catalog selections, organized in collaboration with various institutions and partners. Beyond this point, everyone will be free to do what they want of the project… Richard offers clear information on how to stage, replicate or procure all of its entries. Allowing for an indefinite number of subsequent events (whether in private or public contexts) and for a continuous expansion of the catalog through the regular inclusion of new contributors, Richard aims at establishing itself as a self-sufficient entity, and remain a project with no predefined goal or expiration date.
Richard’s ultimate goal is to activate an alternative scenario for the creation, presentation and dissemination of art, freeing artistic data from its metadata and reactivating the readymade’s potential, adapting it to the ever-evolving issues at stake in contemporary visual culture. As Seth Price has clarified in his now classic visual essay “Dispersion” (quoting Dan Graham) the problem with the readymade was and is that, it merely extended the reach of the gallery’s exhibition territory. Its potential, anyhow, was much greater than that. By conflating issues pertaining to both intellectual and manual labor and radically expanding the meaning of artistic technique in the direction of entirely new skill sets, the readymade carries a largely underused emancipatory potential. As Boris Groys has noted, professional art can serve as a means of education in notions of taste and aesthetic judgment. After this education is completed, the individual should be able to enjoy life itself as an aesthetic experience. Presenting (or, in a sense, concealing) itself as a collectively authored “Conspiracy of the Authors”, Richard aims to expand the perception and understanding of artistic practice, contributing to create new possibilities for unmediated artistic experience in everyday life.
The visual culture of capitalistic societies worldwide has been shaped by rising tides of overstimulation, a flow accelerated by both technological development and the state of constant revolution that capitalism and its production/consumption models have, according to their own transformative nature, so far engendered. At various points in our recent history, the increasing availability of information, images and products in our daily lives has inspired creative thinkers, in and outside the art world, to reconsider artistic practice and find production modes that more closely reflected this reality. After the invention of the readymade (around 1913), and especially since the 60s “re-discovery” of Duchamp’s legacy, different generations of artists and scholars have discussed this (rapidly but graciously aging) art form with often discordant intentions. While some have focused on the readymade’s ability to reveal the fact that works of art are essentially created and made public in order to be judged as such, others have considered them as de-facto mirrors of the human self, in its strive for identification with the objects of consumerist desire. Finally, the readymade has been interpreted as a meeting point of alienated and non-alienated labor, a precious opportunity to surpass the distinction between skilled and de-skilled labor and move in the direction of a redefinition of artistic practice and its ontology.
While the potential of this art form, requiring a set of technical and intellectual skills that varies according to the technological and cultural developments to which the artist responds, was and is immense, the actual use of readymades in contemporary art has been limited by the almost total re-inscription of the idea into art world dynamics and the market logic that generally regulates them, a normalization that started with Duchamp himself, first with the invention of “assisted” readymades, then with the authorization of many reproductions of some of his most famous works. At its best, the readymade foregrounds a utopian reconfiguration of desire and value, supply and demand, form and function relationships well outside the precincts of the art world. It is an encouragement to bring spontaneous creativity not so much inside art practice, but inside any practice, any and all human activity. Duchamp’s readymades, especially the early “unassisted” ones, reveal the creative processes inherent to both productive and creative (alienated and non-alienated) work, leveling the field for a new, hybrid conception of manual and intellectual labor. In this sense Duchamp seemed precognizant of the future expansion of capitalist control over intellectual labor and the fragmentation, fluidification and normalization of creativity that was first theorized by Adorno, Horkeimer and Co. and has now mounted to unforeseeable proportions, coming into the focus of visual culture scholars worldwide as an original form of art-making in itself.
Most of the visual material we consume is today constituted by readymades: pre-conceived and pre-formatted images, objects, ideas. The readymade, once groundbreaking meeting point of revolutionary practice and theory, is now the building block of both our visual reality and imagination. We ourselves are the main authors of this material. Producers and consumers occupy an increasingly expanding grey area on the side of which “authored” visual matter retains authority and aura via a series of well-guarded conventions, keeping the art world’s interests and priorities afloat. It is a scenario that apes what global politics and social involvement have degenerated into: a sclerotic, self-referencing carnival of spectacularized appearances. In this context, innovation, intelligence and good will can only find expression on the individual level, or in the interstices of corporate social platforms whose reactionary interests are more and more clear.
Since its avant-garde debut, the readymade was one of the greatest chances we ever had of emancipating ourselves from the superimposition of normative filters (the gallery, the art school, social network popularity, critical recognition etc.) over the polymorph unreliability of our creative faculties. As John Roberts has noted, Duchamp’s unassisted readymades demonstrated the possibility of re-skilling alienated (de-skilled) labor, of finding new meanings in mass produced reality and, at the same time, questioning the very notion of technical skill. Today, thinking of readymades as capital “A” art, is less important than observing how the idea works (and/or could work) in everyday life. A truly expanded and expansive form of art, the readymade is wasted on an art world that can only be interested in it as cheap production method and/or high-return investment; Richard makes something “else” of it, and although there are implicit limits to what we can and are willing to do here, we’d like to think of this project as a step in the right direction.
On The Night Table
Martha Buskirk; Mignon Nixon (eds.): The Duchamp Effect.
Pierre Cabanne; Marcel Duchamp: Dialogues with Marcel Duchamp.
Boris Groys: Going Public.
Stephen Johnstone (ed.): The Everyday.
Seth Price: Dispersion.
John Roberts: The intangibilities of form : skill and deskilling in art after the readymade.
Various: MOUSSE magazine #36 – “100 Years of Readymade.”