DE4101 Literature & Contextual Review

 As part of our MA studies one of the research projects was a Literature and Contextual review. The review is designed to help us to look at the ways we research and the sources that we use. It also helped me to reference work, ideas and quotes. I must admit i was not looking forward to this especially as it has been a number of years since i completed my Degree. At that time a library was a place that contained just books. Now there are a vast array of online resources and working out they can aid in your research was a big challenge. As i got into the project i really started to enjoy it and i would say it has been extremely important to the way i now work.

The area i chose to study was Objet Trouve, or found objects specifically in respect of the artist Louise Nevelson.

The Art of the Found Object
Crispin Peter Owen


DE4101- Literature & Contextual Review




Literature Review  

Introduction ………………………………………………………. 3

Review…………………………………………………………………  3

Conclusion …………………………………………………………. 5

References   ……………………………………………………….. 5

    Books   …………………………………………………………….. 5

    Journals   …………………………………………………………  6

    Web-sites   ………………………………………………………. 7

Contextual review   …………………………………………… 8

    Non- Text based sources   ……………………………. 10

Images   ……………………………………………………………… 10 





I have always been fascinated by the idea of ‘found’ objects or ‘objet trouvè’. Years of beachcombing, collecting stones, bricks and rusty pieces of metal and a need to display them both as memories of the time they were collected and for their aesthetic and artistic appeal. Alongside this i have always liked the work of artists such as Louise Nevelson, Andy Goldsworthy and Marcel Duchamp without a real idea why and how their work is clearly intertwined. Clearly these artists are all linked by the need to alter the view of found objects. Marcel Duchamp’s work has been described as ‘ready-mades’ but i believe that Duchamp himself was not keen to be associated with any kind of art style.

The process of collecting or finding an object – does this make it art or is it the context of how you display it or does just displaying it make it art. Andy Goldsworthy alters the landscape with his found natural objects and they become moments in time ready to disappear just as Richard long did with his walked path. Collections of objects are also used as memories as well as art but to me they can be seen as the same thing.

The idea of a cabinet of curiosities or ‘Wanderkammer’ is also worth exploring as this ties in the need to record or collect items from history.

 The idea of a memory box is to include items that can provoke a memory. They can be used to remember a loss of someone and they can also be used to help someone remember.  Age UK use these boxes to help people with memory loss and Alzheimer’s, creating different boxes with different memories to help patients to remember. There are also shadow boxes which are glass fronted cases that display possessions as memories.  Visual references that can be conceived as art in the form of memories.

With this review i want to look at the idea of found objects, their different styles and forms and their relationship with Art.


 The difficulty with all types of art is their definitions. I have gone from liking a type of work to trying to define it. The more i research it the less defined it becomes. Would you describe Picasso’s work as ‘found art’ or readymade? As Herbert Read (1964) states of Duchamps ready-made objects ‘The intention is in no sense aesthetic, as is the later intention of the Surrealists in presenting (and even mounting or framing) an objet trouvé; much less any intention of using ready-made materials, as we have seen the Cubists did for their inherent decorative or plastic qualities’¹(pp. 154 – 155). It would seem that there are very different reasons for working, in my opinion, a very similar way. Was Duchamp trying to provoke with his pieces rather than working with and presenting objects that could be seen to have an art aesthetic. It is clear that Read feels that there are very different reasons behind why the artists work in a particular way and how they feel their work should be categorised. Cubist or surrealist, i wonder what becomes more important the art or the label. Maybe it is just the view of the art critic that defines the label. Brandon Taylor goes on to say ‘The ready-made object-as-sculpture begins from the premise that a re-presented existing object can be aesthetically more powerful- given certain assumptions about authorship, originality and ‘’presence’’ – that a newly crafted one’ ²(p. 73). This i feel shows that context is more important than artistic skill in the view of some artists and critics.

The work of the artist Louise Nevelson has always intrigued me. Are the items she collects there for art aesthetic or are they there as memories in the way that memory and shadow boxes are about links to the past. I would imagine that her work if it was created today would be seen as recycled art.  In fact at the time many of Nevelson’s pieces were re-used or became parts of larger pieces of work which she called environments. This meant re-creating earlier works for the Atmospheres and Environments exhibition in 1980 was impossible as the works no longer existed in their original form. My research has also led me to areas such as the cabinets of curiosities or ‘Wunderkammers’ as they are also called. This reference is made in the review of an exhibition of Louise Nevelson’s at the Jewish Museum in New York by Jacob Weil. Weil (2007) writes that ‘Her ‘split’ First Personage (1956) sits neatly in the corner of the first room, along with three other self-identified wunderkammer.’ ³(p. 54).  It would seem to me that in someway the definition of work is again made by the reviewer and not the artists. Maybe the direction of an artists work develops in a way as not to be labelled or to fit in with a style.  It is worth noting that she referred to her pieces as drawings so is she trying to divert the view of her work.

This is also the way that the idea of collecting objects however random and putting them in a cabinet somehow also draws attention to them. It is said they are like small museums and some of the collections became museums in their own way. An example of this is Snowshill Manor which is now run by the National Trust.

Memory plays a vital part in the reasoning behind the work of many artists. Willie Cole comments of his work ‘It’s not just me, a lot of artists who work with discarded objects have talked about objects having memory’ ⁴(p.25). His work also turns found objects into sculptural pieces with a new life. In a review by Nancy Princenthal she states ‘Cole’s ability to create recognizable forms from recycled objects can be called magical, though he is the most down-to-earth of artists. Witness, in this show, a smallish sculpture cobbled together (puns are avoidable with Cole) entirely from shiny black pumps; the configuration plainly suggests a lady in a hat sitting, with perfect aplomb, on a toilet.’ ⁵. This shows that pieces can provoke when they are re-interpreted much like ‘The Fountain’ by Duchamp did in the past.


 This review was all about understanding a form of art and how it related to me. It has led me in many different directions looking at different artists and different types of work. It has been enlightening and also frustrating. I know what i feel objet trouvé is and the work it relates to. Other reviewers and art critics have other ideas as do the artists themselves. Perhaps this is more about how we interpret work and how it relates to each individual. Is this a need of the art ‘historian’ trying to reference work to a time so that it can be documented?  

Do artists change their style so as not to be labelled i wonder. I know as an artist i would like to be respected for my work but not labelled. Am i a ceramicist because i work with clay or am i an artist because my work is referenced to sculpture?




  1.  Read, Herbert. (1964) A Concise History of Modern Sculpture.

London, Thames and Hudson.

  1. Taylor, Brandon. (1995) The Art of Today. 

London, George Weidenfield and Nicholson Ltd.

  1. Weil, Harry Jacob. Louise Nevelson. 

ArtUS. (2007) Issue 19, pp. 54 – 55


  1. Gache, Sherry. Open to all inspirations – Willie Cole.

Sculpture. (2001) Vol 20, № 1, pp. 24 – 29


  1. Princenthal, Nancy. (6/4/10) 




1. Read, Herbert. (1964) A Concise History of Modern Sculpture.

London, Thames and Hudson.

2. Goldsworthy, Andy. (1990) Andy Goldsworthy.

London, Viking.

3. Wilson, Simon. (1979) British Art from Holbein to the present day.

London, The Bodley Head ltd.


4. Albee, Edward. (1980) Louise Nevelson, Atmospheres and Environments.

New York, Clarkson N. Potter Inc. 


5. McShine, Kynaston. (1980) Joseph Cornell.

 New York, Prestel.


6. Townsend, Chris & Merck, Mandy. () The Art of Tracey Emin.

London, Thames and Hudson.


7. Archer, Michael. (1997) Art since 1960.

London, Thames and Hudson.


8. Waldman, Diane. (1992) Collage, assemblage and the found object.

London, Phaidon Press ltd.


9. Lucie-Smith, Edward. (1969) Movements in Art Since 1945.

London, Thames and Hudson.

10. Taylor, Brandon. (1995) The Art of Today. 

London, George Weidenfield and Nicholson Ltd.




  1. Weil, Harry Jacob. Louise Nevelson. 

ArtUS. (2007) Issue 19, pp. 54 – 55 


  1. Camic, Paul M. From trashed to treasured. A grounded theory analysis of the found object.

Psychology of Aesthetics, Creativity, and the Arts. (2010) Vol 4(2), pp. 81 – 92

  1. Gache, Sherry. Open to all inspirations – Willie Cole.

Sculpture. (2001) Vol 20, № 1, pp. 24 – 29


  1. Cork, Richard. Tracey thinks twice.

ArtReview. (2002) Vol LIII, p. 58


  1. Guyon, Anne Lawrence. The great equaliser – James Florschutz.

Sculpture. (2009) Vol 28, № 7


  1. Watt, Jane. Private musings: public projections.

Artists Newsletter. (2003) September, pp. 26 – 29

  1. Ullrich, Polly. Massive Intensity – Nick Cave.

Sculpture. (2006) Vol 25, № 4, pp. 54 – 57

  1. Phillips, Patricia C. Wandering through time – the sculpture of Steven Siegel.

Sculpture. (2003) Vol 22, № 8, pp. 32 – 37

  1. Rider, Alistair. Richard Long, Heaven and Earth, Tate Britain.

Sculpture Journal. (2010) Vol 19 № 1, pp. 138 – 140

10.   Stabb, Jo Ann. Transformations – Trash to Art.

Surface Design Journal. (2002) Vol 26 № 2, pp. 14 – 19


Web- Sites



Accessed October 2010


Accessed October 2010


Accessed October 2010


Accessed October 2010


Accessed October 2010


Accessed November 2010


Accessed November 2010


Accessed November 2010


Accessed October/ November 2010


Accessed November 2010

Contextual review

Through the process of undertaking this review i have found that the real inspiration for the type of work that influences me is probably closer to home than i thought. A recent trip home to see my parents made me realise how my surroundings had clearly influenced me. My father, John Owen, is a practising artist and retired Principal of an Art college. He studied Furniture at the Royal Collage of Art and has always been passionate about arts and crafts and collecting work. Over the years this collection has grown to include antiques and curiosities such as treen that are displayed in various cabinets. This was just something i grew up with and was just normal to me. Looking back i remember holidays collecting strange objects from beaches while on holiday much to the frustration of my mother. I have since collected all sorts of things some of which have found their way into some of my own work. The cabinets in my father’s house are truly Wunderkammers even though he has not thought of them as such. As a maker he has used some of the objects as influences but i wonder like myself whether all these things are a subconscious influence just like it is sometimes unavoidable not to be influenced by past artist we may have seen.

Some of my own work has combined ceramic box forms and found objects. These have usually consisted of larger thin panels which contain various collected feathers and smaller boxes below that contain stones and worn ceramics. Putting them in boxes gives them an extra significance. In a way i can see the appeal and beauty in the found objects and by displaying them i feel that it is a way of other people seeing it to. Some of the more interesting pieces i have collected from beaches tend to be old broken ceramics or bricks that have been progressively worn by the waves. This gives them both a natural and man-made feel. A found object altered by nature. These pieces also give me a memory of where i have been and where i found objects. This is something i would like to study further to see how this can influence and affect my future work.

The real pleasure of art and styles of work including objet trouve is to see and experience the work. Visiting Galleries and museums throughout my life has been the biggest influence and has shaped my views on art. The Nicholson Institute in Leek housed a very old fashioned Gallery area and leading to this area were cabinets full of butterflies and beetles. They were carefully laid out with little labels. These have been a great influence and i still feel drawn to old museums and galleries much to the frustration of my children.

The collecting passions of Charles Wade at Snowshill Manor created a house of everyday and extraordinary curiosities and historical items. Many of the objects were collected for their individual appeal but became more than this when juxtaposed against other items. Charles Wade believed that every object was invested with the spirit of the craftsman. This obsession was so extreme that the collecting completely took over the house and Charles Wade had to live in a small house next door. It was fascinating to visit the house and see his collection not only the antiques but also items which he considered everyday objects. These have added significance as things that we consider everyday items are easily lost or forgotten. It is like the house is one big memory box.

It is also interesting in the context of recycling and making use of waste to look at the type of art works that have been created over the years and the objects they used. It would seem that the artists are using materials that are at hand. There are descriptions of Louise Nevelson walking the streets collecting scrap wood to make here ‘environments’. Would her work be different now if there was less scrap and discarded materials available. Joseph Cornell was known to scour bookshops and antique stalls looking for Victorian bric-a-brac to combine to create his pieces. His work began to change as the amount of objects of interest he could find started to decrease as people saw the value in some of the items.

Contemporary sculpture today is very much about the environment and how this can be affected. One of the best artists dealing with this at present is Andy Goldsworthy. His art is very much about nature and distorting nature. Painting with nature without destroying it.

Today we would see the necessity to recycle or re-use items from a green perspective rather than an artistic one. I like the feel of aged objects with history and memory but perhaps today we should be looking at things from a very contemporary point of view. Making art that has more of a use or that itself can be re-used.

Non-Text Based Sources


1. Snowshill Manor, Gloucestershire, August 2010

            2. Yorkshire Sculpture Park, Leeds

            3. Visit to the home of my Father in Staffordshire.

            4. Nicholson Institute, Leek, Staffordshire.

            5. British Museum, London.

            6. Grizedale Forrest, Cumbria.

            7. The Harris Museum, Preston.


             9. Rivers and Tides, Andy Goldsworthy Documentary (2006)

            10. American Architecture Now: Louise Nevelson, Diane MacKown, Documentary 1976









Louise Nevelson








Shadow Boxes








Joseph Cornell






Andy Goldsworthy















 Willie Cole






 Marcel Duchamp







 Crispin Owen










John Owen Cabinets/ Wunderkammers


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