Magritte meets Duchamp meets Kosuth

Rene Magrittes Treachery of Images (La trahison des images) shows a pipe that looks as though it is a model for a tobacco store advertisement, with a text painted below the pipe “Ceci n’est pas une pipe” (“This is not a pipe”). It might seem a contradiction, but is actually true: the painting is not a pipe, it is an image of a pipe. It does not “satisfy emotionally”. When Magritte was once asked about this image, he replied that of course it was not a pipe, just try to fill it with tobacco.

Joseph Kosuths developed this concept further in his work One and Three Chairs. It can be seen to highlight the relation between language, picture and referent. It problematizes relations between object, visual and verbal references (denotations) plus semantic fields of the term chosen for the verbal reference. One and Three Chairs can be looked upon as simple but rather complex model, of the science of signs. A viewer may ask “what’s real here?” and answer that “the definition is real”; Without a definition, one would never know what an actual chair is.


Kosuth’s thematization of semantic congruities and incongruities can be seen as a reflection of the problems which the relations between concept and presentation pose. Kosuth uses the related questions, “how meanings of signs are constituted” and “how signs refer to extra-lingual phenomena” as a fundament to discuss the relation between concept and presentation. Kosuth tries to identify or equate these philosophical problems with the theory of art. Kosuth changes the art practice from hand-made originals to notations with substitutable realizations, and tries to exemplify the relevance of this change for the theory of art.


In “Art after Philosophy,” Kosuth provoked a confrontation with the formal criticism of Clement Greenberg and Michael Fried. Both exposed the concept of the art work as a non-substitutable instance realized by an artist who follows no other criteria than visual ones. They defined this concept as the core of modernism. In 1968, Greenberg tried to disqualify the new tendencies as “‘novelty’ art”: “The different mediums are exploding…when everybody is a revolutionary the revolution is over.” Sam Hunter offered a more positive view in 1972: “The situation of open possibilities which confronted artists in the first years of the seventies allowed a variety of means and many fertile idea systems to coexist, reconciling through the poetic imagination apparent contradictions.” Kosuth says, It is an art work which is that idea of an art work, and its formal components aren’t important.


Marcel Duchamps Fountain was in 2004 selected as “the most influential artwork of the 20th century” by 500 renowned artists and historians. It is best know of readymades, found objects which he chose and presented as art. Duchamp was not interested in what he called “retinal art” – art that was only visual – and sought other methods of expression. Readymades were meant as an antidote to retinal art. The idea was to question the very notion of Art, and the adoration of art, which Duchamp found “unnecessary”. Breton and Éluard described them as “an ordinary object elevated to the dignity of a work of art by the mere choice of an artist.”


The term readymade was commonly used in the United States to describe manufactured items to distinguish them from handmade goods. 100 years later, Teo Spiller described Lev Manovichs concept of “an object, created and delivered at a distance”, as a ready-to-be-made. In this case he questions a more slippery notion than Magritte. Object on photography don’t exist, it is just a computer generated puzzle, presenting how would an object look like, if someone would order it. The image above is definitely not a curtain, but an image on the screen. But, if someone would order it, he would get a curtain, claiming it is not a curtain.

Ready-to-be-mades are meant as non material object, as virtual ideas on the Internet. They are not meant to be realized. Author don’t want them to be created, because every production and delivery ads to climate changes and should be prevented as much as possible. Nobody needs a cover which claims it isn’t a cover, but we all need to give this Planet to our grandchildren in a condition, in which we received it from our grandfathers.