je ne sais quoi
'Still Life with Bicycle Wheel', or some such. What nostalgic bug speaks to us about the wheel in a gallery context that we could not gather elsewhere? Many mangled and rusted dismembered bikes line our streets, their parts seem to disappear nightly as if by aliens, until the elements which remain are either the least valuable, or are one with the lock.
(Photo credit © Ji Lee, “Duchamp Reloaded”).
I think that it's compelling to consider all of the bric-a-brac which has been dragged into a gallery or museum, from shredded steel tire belts, to Ikea Lamps, and Donuts. By whose aesthetic value. Sometimes, perhaps often, we take a "toss-it and see if it will stick" sort of approach. What remains to line the hallowed halls of the modern museum gets vetted by the initial sponsor and then fifty million or so other apes, who imitate that point of view. More often than not, we all take art at face value, based upon someone else's aesthetic, and when entering a Museum we are there to see what shakes out. We take it on faith that because it's there, then it is good, great even. But the centuries-old inner monologue we face when we see someone studiously enjoying something we care less about, is completely fine. It is fine to not give a shit about the Kool-aid that everyone has slammed. "This is not a Pipe" may betray that the painting is in fact a Pipe, but when the bicycle wheel was elevated to cult standing by Marcel Duchamp in 1913, it was only so because this readymade was shown as ART, and shook out as art by the similar Kool-aid momentum. Art is generally a poetic construction, whereby the common words (spoken daily) are put into a new context. These letters shake out as a new Object. We are told to pay careful attention to their new context, although they are decidedly the same words, but in this new arrangement we are acknowledging a juxtaposition to call out a higher cult following. It makes me think of pop stars, and "Internet Influencers", the new talking heads of a generation, who inspire us to behave like them. If the magnetism is strong, or our resolve weak, we are impressionable and we "go with it". I've been to poetry readings where the audience was keyed into the word-smith, hanging on every syllable. Conversely I've been to a Moth Hour, where the words fell apart in front of the crowd, and the audience courteously struggled to remain awake.
The 'Assisted' Readymade assemblage of bolting a Bicycle wheel to a Stool is a play of motifs, and yet a somewhat elegant movement based upon the fundamental beauty of the primary object, true, and perhaps a more magnetic cult surrounding a young artist. Let's look at a fan for example. A kinetic wheel with spokes that spins under power or a breeze animates the air in the room. A fan in any context is interesting alone as an object, but not necessarily an object d' art. However, if you show a kid a classic metal table fan oscillating, and there are no video games or TV's in the room, the fan may soon become the most revered object in the room.
I'll submit to you that the Fan, like the Bicycle wheel, is elegant on it's own.
Any bike mechanic may have made the same object or has made several similar objects and it's likely that everyone has seen since 1914 the bicycle wheel repurposed as a decorative motif, using colorful accents, streamers, and other metal flair. I think that any enthusiast mechanic has already explored every fate of toy, or gadget using plain bike parts. I trust that the bicycle wheel and fork are used most liquidly for this sport. I may recommend that Duchamp's two iterations of this piece, one from France, and One made in NY, were each built simply if a bit more crudely than a clever mechanic. I think that If I were to make one, I'd select to utilize a Campagnolo Nuovo Record Headset to cinch the two together. My v.2 sculpture would rotate as well as spin. Silky smooth High Flange hubs, and a crusty sew-up Rigida may adorn my "readymade".
The elegant bicycle wheel repurposed as a wind-mill, chandelier, Ferris-Wheel, or pully, all forms seem to revere the Wheel's simple elegance for what it is in it's essence. Perhaps what makes this 1914 example special is (as with most contemporary art), the clever juxtaposition. It's never lost on me that whenever I leave a Contemporary gallery, I leave most of the art behind. It seems that once the "wow, that's clever" wears off, ...I tend to be completely done digesting the piece. Few Impressions in the contemporary art world seem to be long-lived. It may be an old person jaded affect which leaves me far to chaste to appropriate more than passing impress with the form, but in general I'd say that ounce for ounce I still get more of a kick out of Mid-century Painting , or a WPA Piece, than from the MCA. Staying power seems to be the theme. If you showed me something like a Ciocc, or a Mercxx, and then a Y2K Trek OCLV 5200, I'm sure you see the resemblance, but is it really nostalgia, which leaves it's mark upon us? If You look at an elegant design, and compare it to a similar object which is decidedly less elegant, shall we say a Bialetti Coffee Boiler vs a Mr. Coffee, or a Chemex, vs a Melita, we can see that there is something chic about the former forms, and something less elegant about the latter, where no nostalgia seems to play a role. If we look at a Specialized tri-spoke wheel vs a Spoked Mavic, whereas the two are contemporaries, the Mavic may win for elegance, and yet the Specialized may appeal to the Design Cult. Now consider the Mad Fiber, vs the Spinergy, where the two seem aligned in process, the Mad Fiber seems more elegant of form, and both are contemporaries, whereas neither possess nostalgic sentiment per se'.
Remove the elegant nostalgia and assess merely the confirmed simplicity of a Stool, Fork and Wheel. each object is rather notorious of it's own right, and is made so, because in nearly 150 years they remain unchanged as design essentials. These forms like a Hammer cannot be further simplified / improved much without belabored overthinking, and their forms weigh heavily in some archetypal purposefulness. Surely we can make them better, or more cheaply, but they have already been distilled to an essence. Once taken as simple objects, bringing them to a more heroic standing is merely a matter of context shift. Placing a Stapler or a Mouse-trap in a museum, places emphasis upon their cult standing as sustaining essential designs. Last week I used a Flour sifter from the mid 40's and a similar Wisp, to bake cookies, and both of these objects are not only sublimely simple in their form and function, but they have literally not evolved nor improved.
When Lucien Juy Introduced the first practical Derailleur in 1928, it was no less of a hit than Duchamp, but perhaps in different circles. Lucien Juy owned a bicycle shop in Dijon, Côte d'Or, France. It was there that he made the first Simplex derailleur in 1928. The bicycle historian Hilary Stone said: "It used a single pulley to tension the chain and a pair of guide plates to push the chain to each one of two sprockets.
In 1937, the derailleur system was introduced to the Tour de France, allowing riders to change gears without having to remove wheels. Previously, riders would have to dismount in order to change their wheel from downhill to uphill mode. Derailleurs did not become common road racing equipment until 1938 when Simplex introduced a cable-shifted derailleur. To change wheels simply, in 1930 Tullio Campagnolo Patented the cam operated Quick Release for the Bicycle wheel, and by 1933 his Company was making these hubs.
It would take a decade for Tullio Campagnolo to introduce the first commercially successful Gran Sport modern parallelogram derailleur in 1949. History has refined this iconic design very little since it's invention.
In nearly the same tenure as Duchamp, both the Bicycle wheel & Deraileur have not changed much. The simultaneous following of hero's cyclists & artists, at a similar time in history, has buoyed up inventors Duchamp, Juy, and Campagnolo to cult worship. Little has changed in their evolution since, and that cited distillment of form seems to be the essence of the art here. A stool, sturdy & elegant in it's form, a Wheel kinetic and light, the elegant fork holding it gracefully together, each element robust in one axis only, and vulnerable from the other.
What is the art form here? the Wheel?, Id be tempted to say so. Kinetic, and graceful of purpose. The wheel is the hero of this piece. The thin spokes carrying the burden of the load, and exploiting the elegance of the ride. Freedom is the first word that comes to mind when I imagine a bicycle. Most people's initial free moment came when they sped off on their first "two-wheeler" ride. Duchamp Exploited the wheel to make "art", but was the bicycle wheel already there? The thin spokes of the Wheel poised to support copious duties about town, seems to defy it's elegance. Is the Derailleur already there?
I'm not sure that bolting a derailleur onto a chair, or anything else for that matter may have had the same effect. Perhaps running the chain through the pulleys to drive a Fountain, or a Fan, may have been a cool gadget, but what is in the Duchamp piece could be said to be every thing that's missing. The Piece lacks any purposeful or functional use. The lack of utility and even the intentional uselessness, seems to be the point. If you cannot tip this in any way and get it to do something other than sit and spin, then this Object is void of utility, rather like a fan without power, or a dry toilet. This wheel lacks a tire, and as such really is un-usable. I think that perhaps once you are "on to" this vacuum of purpose subtext, you could make ready-mades, or assemblies with very little effort. This piece becomes a Philosophical discussion as much as an art-form. The "Art is Dead", as Nietzsche May have lamented for "God". Every time I hit my head on something that I cannot quite put a tangible purpose to, then I assure myself that that lump on my head should serve as a reminder, a caution, that it could have been far worse, or that I should consider, "not doing that again". In any case I'll contemplate the purpose and inner monologue generally citing all sorts of reasoning. Deliberately making something not work by combining two otherwise purposeful items, is a bit of a double entendre. It may have a bit of 'that I don't know what'... By 1943 the readymade had not evolved much, and Pablo Picasso who made this Bull from bicycle parts, pulled upon our collective nostalgia to see two elegant parts absconded from a beater as anthropomorphic. We see a bull... In fact most people when asked will see a bull even if not preempted with the title or artist. This is another great juxtaposition, and a purposeful assemblage of bike junk, that underscores the overarching theme that both the nostalgia and the elegance of the bike have power. The draw with both are similar. Grab something that you recall more fondly from your youth and ascribe to it a new life in a readymade. Let's see what you can come up with. Once the initial (je nes sais quoi), "oh that is clever!" has worn off, revisit it every so often and see if it still holds a powerful emotive tug -- like these Bicycle parts do.
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