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

Michael Landy, 'Costermonger's Barrow II' 1991
Michael Landy
Costermonger's Barrow II 1991
Wood, steel and gloss paint
970 x 1040 x 2220 mm
Lent by the American Fund for the Tate Gallery, courtesy of Angela Westwater, 2001© Michael Landy


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:

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  • Henry Moore OM, CH, 'Animal Head' 1951
    Henry Moore often used the natural objects he collected on his coutryside walks –stones, shells, bits of tree root – to inspire his sculptures. For Animal Head 1951 he seems to have made direct use of a found stone, using its natural form as the basis for this skull-like head.
  • Marcel Duchamp, 'Fountain' 1917, replica 1964
    Marcel Duchamp made up the term ‘readymade’ to describe his sculptures made from manufactured objects. His infamous Fountain 1917, an upturned urinal, shocked the art world, raising questions about what art is and the role of the artist.  (Find out more about Duchamp’s readymades).
  • Salvador Dali, 'Lobster Telephone' 1936
    Surrealist artists inspired by psychologist Sigmund Freud’s writings about the unconscious and dreams, often juxtaposed unlikely combinations of found objects to create surprising and unsettling sculptures, such as Salvador Dali's Lobster Telephone 1936. (See the glossary definition for the uncanny for more about this).
  • Piero Manzoni, 'Artist's Shit' 1961
    Conceptual artists such as Piero Manzoni, inspired by Marcel Duchamp’s  ideas, made extensive used of found objects. Manzoni’s readymade objects sometimes included his own bodily excretions (his breath and his faeces)
  • Carl Andre, 'Equivalent VIII' 1966
    Minimalist artists such as Carl Andre used functional manufactured objects to create their minimal sculptures. Their aim was to get the viewer focus on the form of the sculptures rather than the artist’s skill or technique.
  • Jannis Kounellis, 'Untitled' 1969
    Artists of the arte povera movement made use of a wide range of natural and everyday materials including, soil, rags and twigs. Arte povera means literally ‘poor art’ and its artists used throwaway materials in order to challenge and disrupt the values of the commercialised art world.
  • Tony Cragg, 'Stack' 1975
    In the 1980s a new generation of sculptors in Britain including Tony Cragg and Bill Woodrow made sculptures using found objects and materials. For Stack 1975 Cragg explored the formal qualities of these objects – their shapes, colours and textures.
  • Damien Hirst, 'Mother and Child (Divided)' exhibition copy 2007 (original 1993)
    YBA artists such as Damien Hirst and Sarah Lucas make extensive use of natural and manufactured found objects in their work. Hirst uses skulls, shells, butterflies...and dead animals and shells to explore themes of life and death.
  • Mark Dion, 'Tate Thames Dig' 1999
    Collecting and categorising objects in order to understand the cultures that created them is another use of found objects often seen in the work of contemporary artists. For his artwork Tate Thames Dig, Mark Dion and a group of volunteers combed the banks of the River Thames for objects. These were then cleaned, catalogued and presented in a double sided old-fashioned cabinet.
  • Ian Kiaer, 'Brueghel Project / Casa Malaparte' 1999
    Contemporary artists such as Ian Kiaer and Cathy Wilkes juxtapose found objects to create powerful or poetic narratives which explore aspects of society or history.

Further reading

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.

Now is for ever, again
Everyday objects and actions have been appropriated as artworks since the beginning of the twentieth century; find out about some of these artworks in this Tate Etc. article.

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, 'Indestructible Object' 1923, remade 1933, editioned replica 1965
Man Ray
Indestructible Object 1923, remade 1933, editioned replica 1965
Wooden metronome and photograph
unconfirmed: 215 x 110 x 115 mm
Presented by the Friends of the Tate Gallery 2000© Man Ray Trust/ADAGP, Paris and DACS, London 2002

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.

Richard Wentworth, 'Yellow Eight' 1985
Richard Wentworth
Yellow Eight 1985
Galvanised steel and brass
object: 323 x 585 x 340 mm
Presented by Charles Saatchi 1992© Richard Wentworth

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.

Cathy Wilkes Untitled 2013 Installation view
Cathy Wilkes Untitled 2013 Installation view 'The Encyclopedic Palace', Venice Biennale, Venice, 2013

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.

Other perspectives

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.

In detail

Sarah Lucas Installation view of entrance hall two
Sarah Lucas
Installation view of entrance hall

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.

Found object for kids

Wrapping up the impossible
Wrap up everyday found objects (or perhaps some unusual ones) in this surreal Textile Tryout activity for kids.

Related glossary terms

Techniques, processes and concepts:

Readymade, assemblage, appropriation, the uncanny

Groups and movements:

Dadasurrealism, conceptual art, minimalism, arte povera, YBAs