The exhibition “On the Subject of the Ready-Made or Using a Rembrandt as an Ironing Board” – featuring 130 works from the Daimler Art Collection selected by Welsh conceptual artist Bethan Huws – straddles the years 2016 and 2017, thus referencing the ‘double’ birthday of the ready-made as a concept and as an artistic praxis. In January 1916, Marcel Duchamp (1887–1968, F) first formulated his concept of the ready-made (the translation/transference of everyday objects into an art context) in a letter. In 1917, he submitted a urinal to a New York exhibition as a sculpture entitled “Fountain” and signed “R. Mutt 1917”.
Bethan Huws’ curatorial concept takes as its starting point the combinatorial practice, inherent logic and analytical wealth of references seen in Duchamp’s thinking. She lends these a visual presence by creating surprising juxtapositions of artworks from across a hundred years of art history, which provide a commentary on one another. The title of the exhibition, which is a quote from Duchamp, is a play on words on the famous line from Lautréamont’s “Les Chants de Maldoror” (published 1874): “As beautiful as the chance meeting on a dissecting-table of a sewing-machine and an umbrella.” This became a defining slogan of the Surrealists and also anticipated the ready-made in linguistic form.
Doors, glass panes or windows that simultaneously reveal and conceal are a theme that runs through the artwork of Duchamp. This prompts Bethan Huws to incorporate the bronze doors of the exhibition space into her curatorial concept: in their twinned or Janus-faced arrangement, we perceive these simultaneously as exit and entrance. In parallel with this, the artist has chosen numerous works from the collection with window/door motifs. Other recurring themes and motifs in Duchamp’s oeuvre and in Huws’ selection are: circles and targets, religious and political symbols, machines and bridges, but also colors (black/white, grey, orange, green), and the primary colors red, yellow and blue.
On another level, Marcel Duchamp’s artwork deals with more abstract concepts: nothingness and emptiness, word and image codes, reproduction and serial repetition, reality and imagination, nature and urbanism, humour and irony. Bethan Huws has discovered diverse visual references relating to all of these in the Daimler Art Collection.
The way in which Duchamp’s works are art-historically anchored in a territory between impressionism/cubism and conceptual art is reflected in Bethan Huws’ artistic concept through the incorporation of images associated with early abstract art, surrealism, documentary realism and Pop art. Last but not least, another aspect of Huws’ selection relates to Duchamp’s favoured artistic media and materials: chalk, ink, wood, photography, mechanical painting, printed graphics and object montages.
The audio guide and the accompanying booklet based on texts by Bethan Huws are significant parts of the concept.