Art Term

Found object

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

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:

  • Readymade

    The term readymade was first used by French artist Marcel Duchamp to describe the works of art he made from …
  • Assemblage

    Assemblage is art that is made by assembling disparate elements – often everyday objects – scavenged by the artist or …
  • Appropriation

    Appropriation in art and art history refers to the practice of artists using pre-existing objects or images in their art …
  • The uncanny

    A concept in art associated with psychologist Sigmund Freud which describes a strange and anxious feeling sometimes created by familiar …

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Selected artists in the collection

Found object at Tate