Three million years ago in Africa, a hominid found a pebble resembling a face and took it home. Chosen not for use but for what it signifies, the Makapansgat Pebble has been called the first art object.
The Makapansgat Pebble. Photo: © The Natural History Museum/Alamy
Fast forward to ancient Greece, the Renaissance, the Romantic era — an evolutionary nanosecond — and the found object has practically disappeared from art, at least in Europe. Artists are admired for their special ability to shape raw material. In cabinets of curiosities, meanwhile, found objects open the first chapter of modern science.
G Wingendorp, Frontispiece of Ole Worm’s cabinet of curiosities from ‘Museum Wormianum’ by Ole Worm, 1655. Engraving. Image courtesy Private Collection/Bridgeman Images
The 20th century enthusiastically re-adopted found objects. Surrealists loved the everyday world’s uncanny propensity to mirror the pysche. The unrivalled finder and hoarder Pablo Picasso made Bull’s Head from bicycle parts.
Pablo Picasso (1881-1973), Bull’s Head, 1942. © Succession Picasso/DACS, London 2015.
Photo © RMN-Grand Palais/Béatrice Hatala
Found objects are potent elements in conceptual art. The guns in Throne of Weapons by Cristóvão Canhavato (aka Kester) are killing tools transformed into a symbol of hope.
Cristóvão Canhavato, Throne of Weapons. Image © The Trustees of the British Museum. © Cristóvão Canhavato, courtesy of the artist.
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