Readymades, Functional Art and Art for Art's Sake

There's a couple art concepts we'd like to consider in this feature: "Readymades," which include objects that the artist has selected and/or modified and then presented as art; "Functional Art," which includes art objects that are designed to be useful or practical in addition to being attractive, and "Art for Art's Sake," in which the chief or only aim of a work of art is the self-expression of the individual artist who creates it. Let's see some examples of each below.

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We saw this sculptural installation piece titled "This is not a fountain" by Subodh Gupta at the Hauser and Wirth Gallery in New York City. At a first glance, it would seem to be easily categorized as a "readymade," with the appearance that Gupta piled up a huge collection of buckets, pots and pans in a twelve-foot area on the gallery floor. But this is no simple pile-up; Gupta has created an unseen pool holding water underneath the collection of pots and pans which is then funneled up through pipes and out of faucets, spouting water which flows over the various dishes and back into the underlying pool in a continuous loop like a fountain. So the question arises: why did Sudobh Gupta title it "This is not a fountain" which in fact it is? We learned that the title is an art history insider's joke: it is a reference to Rene Magritte's painting "This is not a pipe," which was indeed a painting of a pipe.

Fountain made of pots and pans by Subodh Gupta

Next, let's look at some functional art. We've got two examples below, "Deer" by Nancy Josephson, which is a functioning light fixture, albeit a very decorative one, with a glass bead and rhinestone-covered deer head with flowers. You'd really have to like it as an art work (which we do!) to buy it with the intention of using it as a lighting fixture, but it does indeed have that functional purpose. And then there's Paul Ramirez Jonas' corkboard "bust" sculpture, which includes pushpins and invites gallery visitors to pin up their own clippings, reminders, or whatever they want like it's a bulletin board. So in reality it could serve as a functioning bulletin board, but the question remains whether any art collector would actually use it as such.

Lighting fixture like a sconce with a deer head and beads by Nancy Josephson

"Deer," 2015, by Nancy Josephson. Taxidermy form, glass beads, rhinestones, and assorted embellishments.

Bust sculpture made with corkboard by Paul Ramirez Jonas

From the "Ventriloquist" series, 2013, by Paul Ramirez Jonas. Sculpted corkboard with pushpins.

We've got a couple more functional art works we'd like to share with you. Below left we have a collection of hand saws, created by Richard Slee. There's no doubt you could pick one of these up off the shelf and cut something with it, but they're meant to be displayed as art objects - the handles are made of ceramic, which reflects a sense of craft and handmade, as opposed to a standard plastic-handle saw bought in a hardware store. An interesting anecdote about these saws: the artist says his accountant father was "useless at making things and didn't have any tools," and these pieces were originally in an exhibition titled "From Utility to Futility," which is obviously a statement about his father!

Below right we have "Win Win (Flamingo's Dream)" by Trong Gia Nguyen. One could argue that it doesn't fulfill the original purpose of a ping pong table, since it is only half a table and can't be played by two people. But the half-table with upturned mirror does provide a "practice" table, and indeed, people at the exhibition were allowed to play against themselves on this sculptural piece.

Saws as art work, sculptural pieces made by Richard Slee

Various "saws," 2014, by Richard Slee, made with ceramic and metal.

"Win Win (Flamingo's Dream)," 2015, by Trong Gia Nguyen," ping pong table with mirror, paddle and ball.

The last topic we discussed at the top of the page was "art for art's sake." We gave one definition above, but here's another one which is more in-depth: "art for art's sake" is an art work that is completely "divorced from any didactic, moral, or utilitarian function." Another word used to describe this type of art is "autotelic", which is based on a Greek word that means "complete in itself." Here's two examples of art works that we think qualify as autotelic and art for art's sake: “Untitled,” by Robert Ryman, 1961 (below left), white oil paint on canvas; and "Albuquerque," by Elaine de Kooning, 1960, oil on canvas.

oil on canvas paintings by Robert Ryman and Elaine de Kooning

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