The Modern World During and After the World Wars, C. 1914–1960

Dada and Surrealism

What is a “ready-made”?

A “ready-made” is an artistic concept that describes an existing functional object that no longer serves its intended purpose and that is instead considered for only its aesthetic value. The best example of a ready-made is Marcel Duchamp’s Fountain (1917), a porcelain urinal Duchamp signed as “R. Mutt” and submitted as a work of art for an exhibition of the Society of Independent Artists in New York. When Duchamp changed (or augmented) a pre-existing object, he called the work “ready-made aided.” The act of signing the urinal can be considered such a change, but a more complex example can be seen in Duchamp’s L.H.O.O.Q. (1919). For this work, Duchamp took a found object (or, a pre-existing object), in this case, a postcard of the Mona Lisa, upon which he drew a mustache. This act of aesthetic vandalism serves to question the authority of art history and the preeminence of so-called fine art. Duchamp’s interest in ready-mades reflects Dada provacatism, humor, and irreverence. The concept influenced later artists such as Jasper Johns, Robert Rauschenberg, and Andy Warhol, all artists who manipulated pre-existing images in their work to communicate new meanings.


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