Duchamp: The Readymade and the process of questioning

Herbert Molderings explores in his article ‘Marcel Duchamp’s Studio as a Laboratory of Perception’ (Hoffman, 2012:72-76) the Readymades as ‘epistemic objects’, the way Duchamp looked at them.  Visual Art as a process in generating knowledge, not to illustrate or to demonstrate knowledge. for Duchamp looked at the process of questioning itself mediated by his studio experiments with all sort of objects. His readymades were not mere objects that demonstrated something but rather an aesthetic experimental object for a ‘speculatively imaginative thought process’. Not the objects per se as important, but the studio space as such, establishing a ‘creative atmosphere’. 

The article relates Duchamp’s work to the work of the mathematician Henri Poincaré who articulated space in four dimension, influencing Einstein and Picasso, and leading Duchamp to dislocate his coat-rack from the wall to the floor to overcome conventional spatial perception, to challenge conventional perspective and theoretical assumptions. Objects become the focus of a new spatial perception in relationship to the viewer’s body and the surrounding space.

Duchamp was trying to question prevailing assumptions about what visual art is (Cincinnati Art Museum). His work Boîte-en-valise shows a transportable mini-museum, a collection of take-away objects in a box. Besides the notion of objects, the work also embraces the tactile sense of exploration. One need to put the hands onto the work in order to obtain a full spatial experience. Certainly not so much in favor of museums and their intention to preserve art work versus to use artwork.

Fig. 1: ‘Box in a Valise’ from or by Marcel Duchamp or Rrose Sélavy (Boîte-en-valise de ou par Marcel Duchamp ou Rrose Sélavy), conceived 1935–41, edition E assembled in Paris in 1963. At: http://www.cincinnatiartmuseum.org/art/exhibitions/exhibition-archive/2018-exhibtions/duchamp/



I can sense here a close link to Uri Aran‘s experimental table works. The objects mediating a new aesthetic experience beyond representational frameworks. What makes me wonder whether I am not too self-conscious at the start of my interrogation to get my temporal work places by regular travels would not restrict and reject a more playful interrogation with space and object relationships. It is perhaps much more pre-abstract, as the experiments are pre-epistemic. They would generate knowledge and perception, and would not be built on that.

With that reflection I think I just need to be more embedded in my surrounding space and see what the objects do to me – or to each other, a performance 


  • Hoffman, J. (2012) The Studio, Documents of Contemporary Art. Edited by Blazwick, I. London: Whitechapel Gallery and the MIT Press.


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  • Mar 6,2018 at 6:54 PM

    I love Duchamp’s boxes – which I knew nothing about till I started work on a box piece of work myself. Have you also looked at Joseph Beuys box work?

    • Stefan
      Mar 6,2018 at 9:53 PM

      Thanks Jennifer for comment, I haven’t look at Beuys yet. The ‘Fat Battery’, 1963 for example? I am currently exploring ways of how I can embrace my regular travelling and suitcase movements into a sculptural painting, But just one idea as part of contemporary still-life. Worktables in context of Uri Aran etc. are the other view. I noticed that many more artists are exploring objects as such in their painterly approach as a kind of formal aesthetic of relationship object-viewer.

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