Marcel Duchamp: “Bottle Rack”
“If one looks at contemporary art … one realizes the minimal creative effort taken on the part of formalist artists specifically, and all painters and sculptors (working as such today) generally.
This brings us to the realization that formalist art … accepts as a definition of art one that exists solely on morphological grounds.
While a vast quantity of similar looking objects or images (or visually related objects or images) may seem to be related (or connected) because of a similarity of visual/experiential ‘readings,’ one cannot claim from this an artistic or conceptual relationship.
The strongest objection one can raise against a morphological justification for traditional art is that morphological notions of art embody an implied a priori concept of art’s possibilities. And such an a priori concept of the nature of art … makes it, indeed, a priori: impossible to question the nature of art. …
The function of art, as a question, was first raised by Marcel Duchamp. In fact it is Marcel Duchamp whom we can credit with giving art its own identity. (One can certainly see a tendency toward this self-identification of art beginning with Manet and Cézanne through to Cubism, but their works are timid and ambiguous by comparison with Duchamp’s.)
‘Modern’ art and the work before seemed connected by virtue of their morphology. Another way of putting it would be that art’s ‘language’ remained the same, but it was saying new things. The event that made conceivable the realization that it was possible to ‘speak another language’ and still make sense in art was Marcel Duchamp’s first unassisted Ready-made. With the unassisted Ready-made, art changed its focus from the form of the language to what was being said. Which means that it changed the nature of art from a question of morphology to a question of function. This change – one from ‘appearance’ to ‘conception’ – was the beginning of “modern” art and the beginning of conceptual art. All art (after Duchamp) is conceptual (in nature) because art only exists conceptually.”
-Joseph Kosuth, Art After Philosophy, 1969