The Quintessential Found Object Art Pieces

Top Lists, Art History

September 30, 2016

The use of a found object in the world of visual art holds multiple importance. On one hand, the application of resources that are considered as junk, recycled materials, or just unworthy, has helped re-shape the understanding towards art materials. In art's story, this was beautifully illustrated by the many, particularly by the famous Italian artists of the Arte Povera. On the other hand, the use of found objects needs to be read as a new understanding towards art, where all of the predisposed ideas about painting and sculpture are dismissed. Often, the use of found objects investigates the border between the real and the constructed realities of the artwork. Bridging the gap between reality and art, these objects often blur and toy with the idea of what art is[1].

Prior to the use of found object by some of the most influential avant-garde movements of the past, the past places them as parts of 16th-century private cabinets of curiosities collections. In the 1900’s we witness the use of an object placed within an art context for the first time. This shift, which occurred in the object’s identity and functionality is the most revolutionary idea within the story of found objects. Giving the object a new name, a new setting, and allowing every day to dictate the choice of the material was a liberating notion for various artists of the past. Raising some of the most important questions that reflect the very nature of art, the found objects in the hands of some of the most influential artists shaped the nature of today’s contemporary art. Such ideas were crucial in shaping and defining the existence of found object sculpture above anything else.

There are many ways in which one can read the idea of a found object art. Related to this term is the question of appropriation in art, which has shaped the production of Andy Warhol. On the other hand, the bed of Tracey Emin is considered a work of art just because it was named as such by Emin herself.

Editors’ Tip: Raw+Material=Art: Found, Scavenged and Upcycled

The book takes its reader on a journey through various countries of the world and illustrates some of the best examples of the contemporary use of discarded material. From United States, Mexico, Brazil and Chile, to UK, Spain, France and Italy, over thirty artists are described in the book. With beautiful illustrations and in-depth analysis of the various materials, the book offers a world of one of the most inventive and most revolutionary art ideas. From the use of fire to the numerous collections of bottles, caps and everything else, the new alternative way towards art making, the innovations of artists decorates every page of the book.
Featured image: Tracey Emin – Bed. Image via

The following list is created to illustrate the ways in which the most influential artists have used the discarded resources and have re-shaped them to create some of the most influential ideas of art history.

Duchamp - The Readymades

The famous rebel, intellectual, and passionate chess player, Marcel Duchamp was one of the most influential art figures in history. His term readymades have helped to define a new understanding towards art production that valued every day found object above anything else. Well, in fact, what was valued more was the desire to re-shape and to rebel against the traditional understanding towards creative production. By naming a urinal Fountain in 1917 and by placing a bicycle wheel or an ironing board inside an exhibition space, he toyed with the very nature of art[2]. The creativity from this moment allowed for any material to be used and thus erased the promotion of the hierarchy found in traditional paintings completely. What was also deliberately destroyed was the myth of the artist. The fact is, Duchamp went to a plumbing store to purchase the urinal. This mass produced item, was in 2004 voted as one of the most influential art pieces of the 20th-century and its legacy for the most of us is quite known.

Featured image: Marcel Duchamp – Readymades: Left: Fountain / Right: The Bicycle Wheel. Images via

Pablo Picasso - The Bull’s Head

The Spanish artistic mastermind, Pablo Picasso, was among the most highly influential figures for the 20th-century art production. Known to experiment and work across an array of disciplines and materials, what this artist touched always turned into gold. The Bull’s Head is a found art object, which Picasso assembled in 1942. Amongst the large pile of discarded materials, Picasso found rusty handlebars and a seat from a bicycle. Quickly in the painter’s mind, the two objects metamorphosed into a bull’s head. This work is important since it exemplifies a world of sculpture production Picasso produced parallel to his Cubist paintings and collages. The manner of assembling his 3D object, avoiding the classical modeling of many Italian sculptors of the past, was influential for the birth of abstract sculpture.

Featured image: Pablo Picasso – The Bull’s Head. Image via

Salvador Dali - The Surrealist Collage

Another Spanish artistic prodigy, Salvador Dali was one of the most influential painters associated with the Surrealism movement. Influenced by the ideas of Sigmund Freud, Dali’s often ambiguous and at times highly erotic images, investigated the world of dreams, and desires of the unconscious. His assemblage Retrospective Bust of a Woman should be read as a representation of a free-flowing association game and the freedom of the artist to use any material at hand. This example describes the importance of the subconscious which helps to shape and to comprehend the produced piece.

Featured image: Salvador Dali - Retrospective Bust of a Woman. Image via

Piero Manzoni - The Artist’s Shit

In 1961 Piero Manzoni filled over 90 tin cans with 30 grams of feces each. At this time, Manzoni focused his production on the investigation of the artist’s body. Understanding the world of creativity as a world of true consumption, the artist’s critical and metaphorical reflections pointed towards the persona of the artist. The growing need of the art world to receive the most intimate and the most personal from the authors, Manzoni has a particular understanding of how to represent the very circle of consumption. His various other projects, such as marking eggs with his fingerprints prior to eating them, or filling various balloons with his breath, continued to toy with the notion of the fetishism of the artist’s body and persona. What was also crucial, especially regarding the term of the found object art, is the idea that anything can be art, promoted by the Manzoni.

Featured image: Piero Manzoni – The Artist’s Shit. Image via

Robert Rauschenberg - The Mix-Media

The use of found objects helped to shape the famous career of the American genius Robert Rauschenberg. Best known for his combines, the term coined to help describe the mix between the sculpture and painting, Rauschenberg’s production used elements of Abstract Expressionism and assemblage. The most famous example of found art is his Monogram. Formed with the use of mix media materials, including a taxidermy goat, the piece pushed many buttons in the art community. Rauschenberg always allowed an element of chance to dictate his choice of material[3]. On various walks around the New York city, the artist searched and found numerous objects he later used. Such was the case with this piece, as the angora goat was purchased from an office supply store. His works were often left open to interpretation by the public, and for this piece artist deliberately avoided to hint to any message or story. A modern day allegory, this combine helped to merge the world of painting and sculpture and to highlight yet again the idea that art can be made out of anything.

Featured image: Robert Rauschenberg – Monogram. Image via

Carl Andre - The Minimalist Sculpture

As one of the most celebrated sculptors of the Minimalism movement, Carl Andre is famous for his wood sculptures and his later floor tile works. We have decided to place him on our list of examples of found object art, due to the fact that most of his sculptures were produced with the use of mass manufactured materials. This helps to expand the idea of what can be considered as a found object and to showcase that in the later years of the 20th-century, art no longer considered any material as more valuable than the other. Considered as one of the most valuable sculptors, Carl Andre helped to fully distance sculpture from modeling, carving, or constructing. With the use of a mass-produced brick, the artist solely relied on the action of sorting and placing. It was during the 1970’s, that the artist celebrated the raw materials he employed and with his work helped re-define the nature of sculpture[4].

Featured image: Carl Andre – Artwork. Image via

Damien Hirst - The Physical Impossibility of Death in the Mind of Someone Living

Along with Tracey Emin, Damien Hirst is a representative of the Young British Artists that in 1990’s used some of the most intimate and some of the most disturbing found objects. In 1991, Hirst confronted the public with a large tank and a preserved shark. Found object sculptor or art was never the same again. There was no manipulation on the shark by the artist. Here, the real was displayed, and with it, the audience was also challenged by the atmosphere of death. His tiger shark, preserved in formaldehyde, took all the criticism it received from the public and remained standing. Challenged with the various comments that attacked the value of this piece as a work of art, Hirst’s reply was to ask a simple question - Why didn’t you do it?

Featured image: Damien Hirst - The Physical Impossibility of Death in the Mind of Someone Living. Image via


  1. Magdaleno, L., A., Designation and Metamorphosis: A Narrative of Found-object Art , Lamar University, 2003
  2. Jesse, R.,Cohn, R., Readymades of Marcel Duchamp, Book on Demand, 2012
  3. Rauschenberg, R., Schimmel, P., Crow, T., E., Robert Rauschenberg: combines, Museum of Contemporary Art, 2005
  4. Rider, A., Carl Andre: Things In Their Elements, Phaidon Press, 2011

All images used for illustrative purpose only. Featured image: Tracey Emin – Bed. Image via

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