The term found art describes art created from undisguised, but often modified, objects that are not normally considered art, often because they already have a non-art function. Pablo Picasso first publicly utilized the idea when he pasted a printed image of chair caning onto his painting titled Still Life with Chair Caning (1912). Marcel Duchamp perfected the concept when he made a series of “readymades” — completely unaltered everyday objects selected by Duchamp and designated as art — several years later. The most famous example is Fountain (1917), a standard urinal purchased from a hardware store and displayed on a pedestal, resting on its side.
Found art derives its identity as art from the designation placed upon it by the artist and the social history that comes with the object, either its anonymous wear and tear (as in collages of Kurt Schwitters) or its recognizability as a consumer icon (as in the sculptures of Haim Steinbach). The context into which it is placed (e.g. a gallery or museum) is also a highly relevant factor. The idea of dignifying commonplace objects in this way was originally a shocking challenge to the accepted distinction between what was considered art as opposed to not art. Although it may now be accepted in the art world as a viable practice, it continues to arouse questioning, as with the Tate Gallery’s Turner Prize exhibition of Tracey Emin’s My Bed, which consisted literally of her unmade and disheveled bed. In this sense the artist gives the audience time and a stage to contemplate an object. Appreciation of found art in this way can prompt philosophical reflection in the observer.
Found art, however, has to have the artist’s input, at the very least an idea about it, i.e. the artist’s designation of the object as art, which is nearly always reinforced with a title. There is usually some degree of modification of the found object, although not always to the extent that it cannot be recognized, as is the case with readymades. Recent critical theory, however, would argue that the mere designation and relocation of any object, readymades included, constitutes a modification of the object because it changes our perception of its utility, its lifespan, or its status.
(Marcel Duchamp, Fountain 1917, replica 1964)