Foundlings: treasure on Manhattan streets
In the early 20th Century, an object trashed on the street – a toilet or an old guitar – might have wound up in an art gallery. Especially if the finder’s name was Marcel Duchamp. With his transformation of the object from the ordinary to the aesthetic, the foundling became a “readymade.”
Toilet – Duchamp
On the streets of Manhattan I found a mother lode of objects , daring the finder to transform them into art or utility. Had I but time (and a truck) I could have furnished my entire apartment with beautiful useful things and beautiful things with no use.
In a store window, I saw an unusual lamp – called a “zipper lamp” because it had a zipper which when opened would collapse the lamp into something suitable for shipping. Clever and lovely.
Zipper lamp by day
Sort of Noguchi-esque – a tall, translucent pillar of soft light – just what I wanted. Alas, the price was beyond my reach so I put it out of mind. One day walking on a side street near my apartment in West Village, there it was on the edge of sidewalk – tipped over and kind of sad and broken, waiting to be hauled away by the garbage truck. I took it to Garber’s Hardware – they can do anything – where they easily dealt with the ruptured electrical interior. But, I still could not perfectly repair the exterior – so it remains a little sad and tippy with a few torn edges.
Zipper lamp by night (Freedom Tower in the distance)
Yet, there’s something wistful about the form and the light quality of my zipper lamp that I can’t seem to part with – even though it is falling apart.
Having moved to Manhattan from the leafy town of Princeton, I needed a few plants to fill the void. But what to put them on? Hah! Suitable little tables appeared on the street now and then and I scooped them up as needed. Once I got a very dirty look from a man rummaging in the same pile.
Parsons table – street find
I decided to cut down on acquisitions … but oh no … here’s something I couldn’t resist. What is it? An easel? A flower stand? Where will I put it? Why do I like it?
Metal stand – easel? flowers?
One lucky day walking home along 14th Street past the Milton Cohen Rehabilitation Center, a discard stopped me. What’s that large object, a sculpture? Tossed on the street, lying flat. Shaped like a human with a camera – made out of transparent packing tape. It seemed to have a metal armature.
People passed right by but I couldn’t. I turned it over and over and finally asked the man standing outside who seemed connected to the Rehab Center, “What is this?” He said, “Do you want it?” Was he offering it? “O Yes, what is it?” “I dunno”, he said, “probably something out of arts and crafts. I’m about to put it in the trash. Take it if you want it.” “OMG, thank you, thank you.”
This tapeman with camera is a readymade, a found object. He’s almost as tall as I am, but light.
On the way home, a few stopped me. “Oh, that is soooo cool!” Tapeman was easy to carry but, as you can see, he seriously needs to get to a podiatrist.
I’m a minimalist (so I tell myself.) Love a spare clean look … yet the foundlings are fruitful and multiply.