A found object is a natural or man-made object, or fragment of an object, that is found (or sometimes bought) by an artist and kept because of some intrinsic interest the artist sees in it
- In focus: Three artists who use found objects in their work
- Other perspectives
- In detail: In-depth articles and texts
Found objects (sometimes referred to by the French term for found object ‘objet trouvé’) may be put on a shelf and treated as works of art in themselves, as well as providing inspiration for the artist. The sculptor Henry Moore for example collected bones and flints which he seems to have treated as natural sculptures as well as sources for his own work. Found objects may also be modified by the artist and presented as art, either more or less intact as in the dada and surrealist artist Marcel Duchamp’s readymades, or as part of an assemblage.
As so often, Picasso was an originator. From 1912 he began to incorporate newspapers and such things as matchboxes into his cubist collages, and to make his cubist constructions from various scavenged materials.
Extensive use of found objects was made by dada, surrealist and pop artists, and by later artists such as Carl Andre, Tony Cragg, Bill Woodrow, Damien Hirst, Sarah Lucas and Michael Landy among many others.
Browse the slideshow below and read the image captions to explore some of the ways artists have used found objects in their work:
Damien Hirst: Pharmacy learning resource
Hirst’s whole room installation Pharmacy 1992 is made up of found manufactured objects and objects he has made which resemble manufactured objects. Find out about the artist’s ideas and the meaning behind individual objects included.
Sarah Lucas’s Pauline Bunny
Sarah Lucas makes use of found objects as stand-ins for the human body, often referencing sexual organs in order to challenge the art historical idea of the male gaze in her gutsy and humorous artworks. In this article artist Sterling Ruby reflects on Sarah Lucas’s Pauline Bunny 1997.
In focus: Man Ray, Richard Wentworth, Cathy Wilkes
Man Ray: Objects and the surreal
Man Ray’s apparently simple and poetic combinations of found objects inspire surprisingly complex, and often unsettling, responses…
Watch how couples responded to Man Ray’s romantic tribute (made from a found piece of old rope and a chunk of painted lead) to his lover Lee Miller, on display at Tate Modern in 2015.
Duchamp, Man Ray, Picabia
Find out how the friendship between Man Ray and fellow artists Marcel Duchamp and Francis Picabia lead to a rich cross-fertilisation of ideas and experimentation with objects and meaning, in this online exhibition guide to the 2008 exhibition at Tate Modern.
Richard Wentworth: Objects as visual puns
Richard Wentworth’s use of common objects presented within a high art context as sculptures hark back to Duchamp’s readymades with their visual punning and humour.
Meet the Artist: Richard Wentworth
Watch the artist talking about his work and what inspires him in this video.
Richard Wentworth: Tate Liverpool: Exhibition
Find out more about Richard Wentworth’s work in this exhibition text from the artist’s 2005 Tate Liverpool exhibition.
You can hear the welding. And you can hear the blows of the hammer
Wentworth discusses an early inspiration in this Tate Etc. article.
Audio Arts: Volume 14 No 4
Listen to Richard Wentworth talking about his 1995 installation False Ceiling in the Lissson Gallery, London.
Cathy Wilkes: Objects and environments
Turner Prize nominated artist Cathy Wilkes uses found objects which resonate with memory and symbolism in her compelling and unsettling environments.
Artist interview: Cathy Wilkes – Turner Prize 2008
Watch Cathy Wilkes discuss her use of objects in this video made to accompany her Turner Prize exhibition in 2008: find out why she chooses the objects she uses and the role they play in her visual language.
Exhibition: Cathy Wilkes
Discover more about Wilkes’s work in this online exhibition text for her 2015 exhibition at Tate Liverpool.
Inner worlds and outer realities
What are they and what do they mean? Read this Tate Etc. article to explore the layers of meaning and reality in Wilkes’s assemblages of found objects.
Just because it’s displayed in a gallery, does that mean it’s art? Film Director Mike Figgis asked young people in Liverpool what they thought of it of Jeff Koons’s Three Ball Equilibrium, made from three basketballs in a glass tank.
Goshka Macuga: Objects in relation
Read about Goshka Macuga’s blurring of the roles of artist, curator and collector in her displays of other artists’ work alongside disparate collections of objects – books, souvenirs, scraps, artefacts and curios.
TateShots:Sir Peter Blake and The Museum of Everything
Artist Peter Blake, who often used found objects in his pop art works in the 1960s, talks about his love of toys and quirky objects collected for his Museum of Everything
History of the wunderkammern (cabinet of curiosities)
This essay looks at the notion of the ‘cabinet of curiosities and explores how found objects, whether aretfacts or everyday objects have been displayed over the centuries.
An uncooked perspective on the nature of sex
Artist Sarah Lucas is known for her use of found objects (including vegetables and other foods) to suggest sexual organs; A.C. Grayling explores Lucas’s frank approach to the nature of sex.
Meschac Gaba: Museum of Contemporary African Art
With his Museum of Contemporary African Art, Meshac Gaba has created an artwork in which you can contemplate, study, be social and play…twelve rooms contain an assortment of handmade, found and altered everyday objects. Read about his work and ideas in this online exhibition guide.
Joseph Beuys: Actions, Vitrines, Environments
Explore the work of Joseph Beuys in this detailed online guide to his 2005 exhibition at Tate Modern. Beuys utilised found objects to create his large-scale sculptural environments that explore universal social concerns.