Themes in Art


In the early 20th century a posse of Dadaists dragged objects out of hardware stores and dusty closets, put them on pedestals and called them art. While typically attributed to Marcel Duchamp, the performance artist and wonderful weirdo Elsa von Freytag-Loringhoven kicked off the idea by submitting a urinal signed ‘R. Mutt’ to an art show organized by Duchamp. First officially defined in André Breton and Paul Éluard’s Dictionnaire abrégé du Surréalisme, a readymade is “an ordinary object elevated to the dignity of a work of art by the mere choice of an artist.” Readymades were intended to be a slap in the face to traditional ideas about what art is and how it’s valued, and it worked.

Reed Enger, "Readymade," in Obelisk Art History, Published August 03, 2017; last modified October 27, 2022,

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"God", Elsa von Freytag-Loringhoven

"God" Elsa von Freytag-Loringhoven, 1917

Bicycle Wheel, Marcel Duchamp

Bicycle Wheel Marcel Duchamp, 1913

Bottle Rack, Marcel Duchamp

Bottle Rack Marcel Duchamp, 1914

Enduring Ornament, Elsa von Freytag-Loringhoven

Enduring Ornament Elsa von Freytag-Loringhoven, 1913

In Advance of the Broken Arm, Marcel Duchamp

In Advance of the Broken Arm Marcel Duchamp, 1915

L.H.O.O.Q., Marcel Duchamp

L.H.O.O.Q. Marcel Duchamp, 1919

Rotary Demisphere (Precision Optics), Marcel Duchamp

Rotary Demisphere (Precision Optics) Marcel Duchamp, 1925

Why Not Sneeze, Rose Sélavy?, Marcel Duchamp

Why Not Sneeze, Rose Sélavy? Marcel Duchamp, 1921

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