Readymade Shadows is a photographic print showing a replica of Marcel Duchamp’s (1887–1968) readymade Bicycle Wheel 1913 (Museum of Modern Art, New York), which is shown in a studio suspended in mid-air at an angle. Behind this, covering a wall or partition, are stretched white fabric sheets against which lean two wooden boards. In the foreground, trestles have been set up, upon which a plank of wood and another wooden board have been placed to form a tabletop or work surface. On this are placed some indeterminate objects and a trilby-type hat. The suspended Bicycle Wheel casts a strong shadow onto the white sheets behind it and onto one of the leaning boards. The title refers to this shadow, but also to a photograph from 1918 taken by Duchamp himself: Shadows Cast by Readymades (Philadelphia Museum of Art).
Hamilton’s print is part of a portfolio produced in 2006 by Carolina Nitsch to raise funds for the Merce Cunningham Dance Company, based in New York. The previous year, Hamilton had provided the set design for the first of six one- off performances that were presented, one each night, over a week at the Barbican Theatre, London, by the Merce Cunningham Dance Company, all under the generic title EVENT. Hamilton’s set design for the performance on 14 June 2005 was made up of a projected collage of film and photographs that, through image and text, reflected on Duchamp’s readymades; for instance, mixing images of the Bicycle Wheel or In Advance of the Broken Arm 1915 (a suspended snow shovel; Museum of Modern Art, New York) with Duchamp’s text from his publication the Green Box 1934 (Tate T07744). Much of this referred to Duchamp’s interest in movement and gravity – an apposite theme for a dance production. The print Readymade Shadows relates directly to this event and to Hamilton’s specific design for the set. In the print, the Bicycle Wheel is suspended like a dancer leaping through the air, and its shadow is seen in a shifted orientation (the light source and the camera being in two different positions); its motion is arrested yet implies a sequence of transformation from the three-dimensional object to a two- dimensional image. One review of the performance referred to this metaphor, describing how ‘the footage of the revolving bicycle wheel appeared just as a dancer whipped through a witty set of pirouettes’ (Judith Mackrell, ‘Merce Cunningham’, Guardian, 15 June 2005, http://www.guardian.co.uk/stage/2005/jun/15/dance, paragraph 6, accessed 15 March 2011).
Richard Hamilton first encountered the work of Marcel Duchamp in 1948 through his friend, the artist Nigel Henderson (1917–1985). This introduction, initially through the Green Box, fired an interest that has remained constant over the last sixty years; references to Duchamp and his work can be found in much of Hamilton’s work, both directly and indirectly. Hamilton has described the importance of Duchamp’s work for his own:
the major influence he’s had on me is a kind of reaction against him not in any sense of being anti-Duchamp but in accepting his iconoclasm, the fundamental aspect of his work. There’s one way to be influenced by Duchamp and that’s to be iconoclastic – against him. He was, for example, always anti-retinal. Now I’m turning away, becoming more ‘retinal’ in my painting, and thinking, that’s the way Marcel would like it.
(Hamilton 1982, p.238.)
The interplay of light, object and its shadow which characterises Hamilton’s print was also a feature of Duchamp’s explorations, as described by Hamilton in his text for his exhibition of Duchamp’s work at the Tate Gallery in 1966: ‘Shadows of different objects might be superimposed with multiple light sources making a two dimensional marriage of disparate objects. Duchamp considered the possibilities in a note in the Green Box, of shadows cast by readymades being “brought together” and he offered some principles to regulate these chance happenings.’ (Richard Hamilton, catalogue notes, in The Almost Complete Works of Marcel Duchamp, exhibition catalogue, Tate Gallery, London 1966, p.58.) It is in the interplay with its shadow that the transformative power of the readymade is revealed.
Richard Hamilton, Collected Words, London 1982.
Sarat Maharaj, ‘“A Liquid Elemental Scattering”: Marcel Duchamp and Richard Hamilton’, in Richard Hamilton, exhibition catalogue, Tate Gallery, London 1992, pp.40–8.
Etienne Lullin, Richard Hamilton, Prints and Multiples 1939–2002, Düsseldorf 2003.