Richard Hamilton

Readymade Shadows


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Not on display
Richard Hamilton 1922–2011
Digital print on paper
Image: 760 x 1015 mm
Purchased 2010


      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,, 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.

   Further reading
   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.

   Andrew Wilson
   March 2010

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