Contemporary art is the art of today. It is a concept about art of the late twentieth century and early twenty-first century. Much of the contemporary art made today incorporates cultural impact as well as a continual process of re-production. The practice of modern art without a doubt has greatly influenced on contemporary beliefs. A great example could be seen in Ai Weiwei’s works. Throughout his journey, Ai Weiwei has adopted his style of work based on Marcel Duchamp’s practise and has idolised Duchamp and put him as a role model when making his works.
Duchamp started with his early works with Cubism and his involvement with Dada and Surrealism and later movements such as Pop Art. The art and ideas of Marcel Duchamp have radically revised our understanding of what forms an object of art. Duchamp’s conceptions of the readymade can be related to everyday life such as general manufactured objects that he chose and modified by repositioning, titling, reproducing and signing it and became art. 1 Duchamp believes that the idea must showed first, not the visual, of how one defines art.Order now
Duchamp was not pleased in what he called retinal art “ arts that only please the eye. 2 His artwork is humorous, playful and exciting, but at the same time is powerful on stating his political and economic statement. One of his famous satirical works, a porcelain urinal, the readymade Fountain (1917) challenged the general taste and the artistic technique of art. Duchamp simply purchased a standard Bedfordshire style urinal from J. L Mott Iron Works in New York, repositioned it on 90 degrees angle from its normal view of use and designated as his own by signing R.
Mutt 1917 on the object. He chose a general article of life then remodified its significant use and placed it under a new title to create a brand new thought for that object. Duchamp described that his intent with Fountain was to shift the focus of art from physical object to intellectual performance. Decades later, a Chinese contemporary artist, Ai Weiwei made an artwork in correspondence to Duchamp’s Fountain, Pee; a sculpture of a man’s genital with the flowing urine.
He stated that the relationship between his piece Pee and Duchamp’s Fountain is that, they are both shared similar characteristics which relates to body liquid. Both works represent that art is conceptual. The idea of an artwork outweighs the traditional culture of aesthetic and material concerns and challenges the viewers to access their own ideologies to question and respond to the visual art. In 1981, Ai Weiwei moved to New York and lived there until 1993. He gained exposure to the works of Duchamp and producing conceptual art by revising readymade goods.
In Profile of Marcel Duchamp, Sunflower Seeds, 1983, Ai incorporated the readymade everyday object with the self-portrait of Duchamp in profile. A coat hanger was twisted to reveal the facial figure and mounted on wooden base filled with sunflower seeds. The image of the profile was taken from a self-silhouette outline from a book Sur Marcel Duchamp, A self-portrait in Profile, 1958. 3 Furthermore, the used of coat hanger was influenced by Duchamp’s coat rack artwork called Trebuchet (Trap) in 1917.
Trebuchet is perhaps one of the most interesting readymade sculptures by Duchamp due to the fact that he deliberately displaced a coat rack from its original function then nailed them to the ground. Both Trap and Profile of Marcel Duchamp, Sunflower Seeds showed identical techniques that they both were repositioned and mounted to the floor surface. Most of Marcel’s readymade goods were single object that he readjusted and signed. However, in his earliest work, “Bicycle wheel, 1913 ? a metal wheel mounted on painted wood stool, is consisted of more than one individual objects, thus he called this “assisted readymade.
Interestingly, in 2011, Ai Weiwei spectacular “Forever Bicycles, ? an installation built glimmering cavern from 1,200 bicycles debuted for Taipei Fine Art Museum, illustrated the same iconography from Duchamp’s Bicycle Wheel. When Bicycle Wheel was first exhibited in his Paris studio, Duchamp encouraged audiences to spin the wheel. Duchamp claims that the aim of this piece was to provide a form of therapeutic movement from the spinning wheel. The image would portray the flames dancing in fireplace and aesthetically comforting to watch.
On the other hand, in his work Ai refashioned Duchamp’s readymade in more contemporary way. He began to use reproduction readymade objects to add a new richness to the vision and layered them constructively to create the illusion of moving form. Weiwei manipulates the bicycles by detaching its main function and making them static, thus they became immobile. Forever Bicycle brings political awareness that is happening in China where society violates human rights and restricts individual freedoms. It is certain that Duchamp has a lot of influences in Weiwei’s artworks.
From the readymade characteristics in his work and also techniques of making the work, the impact of Ai’s works represents what he have taken from Duchamp. Through Ai Weiwei and Marcel Duchamp, it is clearly seen that many contemporary work has influenced by modern artist. Additionally, the contemporary artwork brings back memory and journey from the past and reinterprets the situation which matched with the current ideas. Consequently, modern art is inevitably has played an active role in contemporary practise.