Author: Bert Jansen
Marcel Duchamp invented the readymade when he fastened a bicycle wheel to a kitchen stool in 1913. More than forty years later the principle of the readymade artwork – industrially-made objects that artists declared to be art by signing them – was embraced by a new generation of artists from Nouveau Réalisme, Neo-Dada and Fluxus. Duchamp’s original readymades are rarely exhibited, however. Seven of the earlier ones have been lost and the ones that still exist can only be seen in the Philadelphia Museum of Art, where a large part of Duchamp’s oeuvre ended up after the deaths of Walter and Louise Arensberg – the leading collectors of his work.
In response to the renewed interest, Duchamp and his gallerist Arturo Schwarz came up with the idea of reproducing fourteen readymades, including the Roue de bicyclette and the 1917 Fountain in an edition of eight. This meant that they would not be readymades in the true sense of the word, but multiples: objects in limited editions. They were made by professionals from technical drawings and photographs of the original readymades. Duchamp checked the blueprints of the designs at his summer residence in Spain in 1964. At that time he also got the idea for new readymades, among then Bouche-évier (Sink Stopper). A badly fitting plug in his bath prompted this work. Duchamp cast a plug in lead, which three years later, in 1967, served as the design for a run of some hundred multiples in bronze, stainless steel and silver. In view of the iconographic coherence in Duchamp’s oeuvre, we can only guess at the meaning of this work. The art dealer and Dada specialist Francis Naumann gave a psychological interpretation: Duchamp would have felt drained after his first retrospective in 1963 – an interpretation that the artist himself did not endorse.
The bath plug is more likely to be a humorous comment on the idea that everything he signed became a work of art; an image of him that came about in the 1960s. This interpretation for the creation of this readymade can also be inferred from his decision to get the edition produced by the International Numismatic Agency, as if it was a commemorative coin. The desire to get his artworks to function outside the art world had already been evident from the first version of the colour lithograph Obligation de Monte Carlo in 1924 and the Rotoreliefs of 1935. In this context Bouche-évier can also be seen as a joke by the artist, as though his recent fame had enabled him to have his own currency minted.