Twelve Ways to Look at a Readymade by Charlie Finch
Under the tutelage of Francis Naumann, Dickinson Roundell Inc. has launched a show called "Aftershock: The Legacy of the Readymade in Postwar and Contemporary American Art," just in time for the spring auctions. The show features, among others, Bruce Nauman, Robert Rauschenberg, Jeff Koons, Robert Gober, Cindy Sherman, Christo, Claes Oldenburg and Jasper Johns.
A major artist apparently came into the gallery right before the show opened and did some exacting revisions on an old piece.
"But you can't tell anyone who it is, Charlie," earned Francis Naumann.
"Why not?" we asked as we compared the cleaned-up piece in the gallery with its dopplganger in the catalogue.
"Because it might lessen the value of the work."
"Don't you mean to say, Francis, that if the surreptitious elisions of this artist were known, that it would be even more a readymade, and the value would skyrocket?"
"I see your point."
We walked by Matisse's Goldfish in the elegant environs of Dickinson Roundell, which normally showcases Old Masters, Impressionist works and antiquities for the superrich. "Hmm," we thought. "That's a nice Matisse, fits right in."
Except, of course, it was a Sophie Matisse and her great grandfather's goldfish were gone from the bowl. Visual tricks were everywhere.
We spied a Brillo Box in the front gallery.
"Is that by Andy Warhol or Mike Bidlo?" asked the artist Rob Wynne.
"I think it's a Warhol," we replied. "Bidlo isn't in the show, and besides, this Brillo Box is in a Plexiglas case."
We walked to the bar in the back for some champagne. Another Brillo Box was perched loosely on a radiator. No glass case.
"Is that a Warhol, too?" we asked.
"Of course," a gallery functionary replied. Hmm.
David d'Arcy of the Art Newspaper told us a story of recently sharing a funny cigarette with his pal Robert Altman on the left coast, as we lounged in the back, sipping bubbly. "No pot needed here," we chirped. "The readymades have us thoroughly spaced."
But pots were everywhere, of course, a bronzed Fountain by Sherrie Levine, a ceramic "herinal" complete with rubber nipples, courtesy of Robert Arneson, an Ice Bucket by Jeff Koons, plus Cindy Sherman's Porcelain Potty.
And any excess liquid could disappear down Robert Gober's Drain. Time for more champagne (and a few of those thin sandwiches).
Soon it was also time to toddle upstairs to the john, with puns and porcelain jostling in the head. "Rubbermaid, Minute Maid, made-to-order. . . ."
Next to the bathroom, we spied a room of valuable ancient sculptures. Aha, the readymade is all about theft, cheap larceny, if you will. Marcel always had the hands of a burglar, but what could he get away with? A bicycle wheel, a snow shovel, a hat rack.
As well as hijacking all of art!
We looked in the back of the catalogue. Here was a quote from Louise Lawler, who's also in the show, described as "E-mail to the author, Feb. 2, 2003."
Quoth Louise, "Duchamp's fetishization gets on my nerves."
Well, Louise, that's not half bad, but, like it or not, Duchamp is your Dad.
Downstairs again, we looked at a print of Jasper's Ale Cans and then at Liza Lou's Six Pack, Budweisers made of beads. What's next, Sapporos made from Kryptonite?
For the readymades are archeology, dug in the present, redolent of the past, mutating, slightly, into the future, leaving the humans behind.
We glanced into the catalogue -- a sheet had been inserted in the front.
Francis Naumann grabbed it. "I didn't know they added this," he ejaculated.
It read: "Jasper Johns, errata and addenda."
"Aftershock: The Legacy of the Readymade in Postwar and Contemporary American Art," May 5-June 20, 2003, at Dickinson Roundell Inc., 19 East 66th Street, New York, N.Y. 10021.
CHARLIE FINCH is co-author of Most Art Sucks: Five Years of Coagula (Smart Art Press).