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Transforming Everyday Objects | Modern Art & Ideas

Many artists use or combine everyday objects to challenge assumptions about what constitutes “art” and how it should be made. Learn how Marcel Duchamp, Meret Oppenheim, and Robert Rauschenberg did the same with a bicycle wheel and a stool, a teacup, and a bed. See short films about other themes: http://bit.ly/1OqE0ZZ Keep learning: http://bit.ly/1JHtmuM.

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Video transcript

Artists have taken raw material and created masterpieces. Modern artists have taken a bed, a teacup and a bicycle wheel and done the same. This video is called Transforming Everyday Objects. A theme we will explore using three works. This is Marcel Duchamp's Bicycle Wheel. Duchamp created it in 1913 and it has been in MoMA's collection for almost fifty years. It looks a lot like a bicycle wheel on a stool because it's a bicycle wheel on a stool. But much more interesting than the way it looks is the ideas associated with this work. It was one of many works Duchamp called Readymades. A shovel, a bottle rack, a hat rack, a coat rack and a bicycle wheel. Readymades challenged every definition of art ever. Art is handmade by the artist. It's a normal bicycle wheel, it's a normal stool. These are already made objects. Art is beautiful. If you want to look at a bicycle wheel upside down, stuck in a stool and find that beautiful, it's possible but I think we're on the wrong track. Duchamp in fact criticized so many modern artists as being in his words, retinal. In other words, eye candy. Something to look at. And if you introduce your taste, you go back to the old ideals of taste and taste is the great enemy of art. Of course, Duchamp's own taste is critical here. Duchamp's a trouble maker. We're talking about an artist who questions every single aspect of everything that is stated as a fact. Duchamp was forcing the art world to define what was art. His readymades paved the way for modern art for decades. Twenty years after Duchamp tried to shock the world with a bicycle wheel, Meret Oppenheim was about to do the same with a teacup. In 1936, after having tea with Pablo Picasso and Dora Maar, returns to her studio and creates this. This object was created at sort of this perfect storm moment. There were all these artists looking at the world in a totally new way. Oppenheim, a 22-year old art student, had already caught the attention of Andre Breton, the founder of Surrealism. Breton and the Surrealists believed there was a crisis. Society had become stuck. They believed Surrealism could shock people out of the limits of reality. As Breton put it, "we must not hesitate to bewilder sensation." An iron with nails. A metronome with an eye. A fur-covered teacup. The idea that, if you alter an object, it alters your perception of what that object is. Oppenheim's teacup was viewed as threatening, repulsive. A woman even fainted. Breton declared it the perfect Surrealist object. Oppenheim claimed, "it was a fluke...I had been making fur-covered jewelry to make a little money. I showed a piece to Picasso and Dora Maar and they joked that anything could be covered in fur. Today, Meret Oppenheim's fluke remains the definitive Surrealist object. Twenty years later in New York, art was being very serious. It was called Abstract Expressionism. It was brooding. It was personal. Enter Robert Rauschenberg. You have to have a lot of time to feel sorry for yourself if you're going to be a good abstract expressionist. And this was his response to Abstract Expressionism. He called it "Bed," because it was his quilt and pillow. It was called art because it was on the wall. "Painting relates to both art and life. I try to act in the gap between the two." Critics didn't know what to call it. Was it a painting? was it a sculpture? Rauschenberg ended up calling it a combine. "It was the economy. I didn't have anything to paint on." Rauschenberg painted on quilts, pillows, newspapers, bald eagles, garbage, pictures. He helped art to be more than just paint on a canvas. Now it could be, well, a bed on a wall. "Bed." "Object." And "Bicycle Wheel." Transforming everyday objects.