All of Duchamp's original readymades were lost during his travels from France to America and back. For the Galleria Schwarz exhibition in1964 they were re-created in limited editions using the photographs that existed of them as guides. These then are the urinals, bicycle wheels and coal shovels one sees in museum collections around the world, not ready-mades, but remade readymades. But what are the issues surrounding this recreation, can indeed the readymade be re-made and still survive?
Duchamp often denied that his readymades had any intrinsic aesthetic qualities. " A point which I very much want to establish is that the choice of these readymades was never dictated by aesthetic delectation. The choice was based on a reaction of visual indifference with at the same time a total absence of good or bad taste, in fact a complete anaesthesia." said Duchamp in 1961. Whilst Duchamp's desire to distance himself from the good taste of those connoisseurs of everyday utilitarian objects is understandable his denial of aesthetics was somewhat contradicted by his comments vis-a-vis the urinal that "the only works of art America has given are her plumbing and her bridges". Similarly speaking of the bicycle wheel he describes its genesis thus" it just came about as a pleasure, something to have in my room, the way you have a fire, or pencil sharpener except there was no usefulness". Writing of R Mutt and his urinal, which was refused entry to the exhibition, "he took an ordinary article of life, placed it so that its useful significance disappeared under the new title and point of view". This perhaps is the key to Duchamp's seemingly contradictory statements; an emphasis not so much on the object and its inherent aesthetic charms, or on the good taste of the artist in appreciating those qualities, but in a transformation of the object through the giving of " a new thought for the object".
The relationship between object, artist, thought and the ultimate reception of the readymade by the audience is a delicate one. In particular the object's original purpose may no longer be foregrounded but cannot truly be said to disappear rather it remains subdued in favour of the new thought. This allows any formal aspects or aesthetics of the object already present (and which may or may not have been intentional on the part of the maker) to be given new purpose and focus by the creation of " a new thought for the object". In the readymade thought and object are entwined and must remain inseparable for their mutual survival. The thought is supported by and feeds on the object, whilst the object needs the thought to protect it and avoid its return to its previous condition.
In the process of remaking the readymades as limited editions for the exhibition of 64 the marriage of thought and object was rent asunder. The 'easy" aesthetic of the original object bought, if not as indifferently as Duchamp would like us to believe, then certainly casually in a local shop becomes replaced by the weighted and purposeful making of the object. The object is now crafted for the sole purpose of art. What was previously readymade then becomes prepared and full of intention, in short made, and something of nonsense.
Duchamp was surely aware of this nonsense but the pragmatism of commerce may have swayed his better judgement. However this simple act of remaking, this small slippage, for which many museums are now grateful, created a stress fracture that runs through much contemporary art.
After Duchamp it almost became de riguer to remake the readymade. Oldenburg, Koons, Hirst, Landy, Emin, Hatoum, the list of readymade remakers is almost a who¹s who of contemporary art; practices all perching precariously on the fault-line of Duchamp¹s slippage. In the case of the YBA artists, Duchamp cannot be held solely responsible as confusingly the remade is often combined with a Beuysian investment in the object as momento mori or relic.
Unintentionally Duchamp began a process whereby artists would in seeking the sculpturally unweighted, fool themselves and the audience with careful manipulations that seek to recreate the "easy" aesthetic of the readymade. In reality what is produced is often highly sculpted but seeks to hide the individual making behind the pretence of mass production or industrial process.