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Neo-Materialism, Part Two: The Unreadymade

→ Continued from “Neo-Materialism, Part One: The Commodity and the Exhibition” in issue 20.

Traditionally, by employing a series of strategies incorporating appropriation, composition, abstraction, re-contextualization, and de-contextualization of different commodities, modern art tried to see an entity beyond the ever-present commodity. In an art context, the commodity, this omnipresent “other entity” with which we are engaged in a network of intimacies (we eat, drink, wear, sit on, sleep in, and touch it), has been central to Dada, the Surrealists, the Constructivists, and Pop. Investigations into the commodity on both linguistic and conceptual grounds had already begun with the shift from Picasso’s objets trouvés, which he incorporated in his paintings and sculptures, to Duchamp’s readymades.[footnote See Thierry de Duve, “The Readymade and the Tube of Paint,” in Kant After Duchamp (Cambridge, MA: The MIT Press, 1996), 147–196.] The examination of the relationships between humans in the world of commodities has likewise been focused upon in cinema—in romantic comedies, for example, where humans struggle to couple through different rituals of consumption.[footnote Parallel to the “simple truth” television advertisements present us with by making commodities their main characters (notice the screen time humans receive versus objects in TV ads), contemporary romantic comedies focus on humans’ struggle to couple in a world of commodities, in which courting has transformed into a ritual of consumption structured by dating, status symbols, and lifestyle accessories.]

One could argue that some commodities are art objects, but all art objects are commodities. The commodity precedes the artwork. It is the material that inhabits all materials. It is the basic technique of every technique, the fundamental medium of all mediums. Even if, as has been the case for the past 150 years, the paint tubes, canvas, color pigment, wooden frame, and image (even that of an abstract painting) are all commodities, then an examination of the commodity as a pre-existing presence that precedes also the commodification of artworks in the art market, is long overdue. Thierry de Duve describes Duchamp’s readymades as having emerged from the industrial paint tube of the American portrait painter and paint manufacturer John Rand, quoting Duchamp:

Since the tubes of paint used by the artists are manufactured and ready-made products we must conclude that all paintings in the world are “readymades aided” and also works of assemblage.[footnote Thierry de Duve, “The Readymade and the Tube of Paint,” 163.]

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