Far from representing a break from the idea of art as commodity, the readymade enshrines it. The readymade simply makes the act of consumption itself—or rather the aesthetic sensibility, including irony, of the artist—into the aesthetic object.
The readymade, as Martha Buskirk points out in The Contingent Object of Contemporary Art, results from a series of gestures:
- Selection (of one object among others)
- That it is a work of art (a performative gesture)
- That it is now an artwork under the sponsorship of the artist’s imprimatur, under the umbrella of his or her “authorship.”
- Recontextualization (10).
What are these stages if not a paradigm of contemporary consumerism? We evidence our taste through a selection of objects that cease to be displayed in a store or online and become, instead, metonyms for our self. More pointedly, metonyms for our sense of taste, for the distinction and attendant cultural capital Pierre Bourdieu analyzes so trenchantly.
So the hipster picking out the perfect vintage tee shirt is the descendent of Marcel Duchamp appropriating a bicycle wheel or bottle rack. What they have in common is that their aesthetic sensibility is what’s on display, the real commodity that’s being traded upon.