Creating art using recycled materials has been a tradition in art for over 100 years.
Originally coming from the French term objet trouvé, found object describes art created from undisguised, but often modified, objects or products, not normally considered art.
Before the 20th century unusual objects were collected in cabinets of curiosities, but it was only in the early 20th century that found objects came to be appreciated as works of art in their own right. In fact Picasso was the first publicly to use the idea when he pasted a printed image of chair caning onto his painting titled Still Life with Chair Caning (1912).
It is generally accepted that Marcel Duchamp perfected the concept several years later when he made a series of ready-mades — completely unaltered everyday objects selected by him and designated as art.
Objets trouvés are often used as raw material in assemblages, and Antoni Gaudí, for example, used broken pieces of pottery to cover exterior surfaces in the Park Güell buildings (1900–14) in Barcelona.
The Development of Collage in Cubism also saw more use of found objects
Picasso and Braque, in particular, used real items in their paintings and constructions as a way of commenting on the relationship between reality, representation and illusion.
Joseph Cornell’s mysterious and highly personal box constructions, which consisted largely of objets trouvés, were first presented in the context of
Surrealism at MOMA in New York.
The use of found objects was quickly taken up by the Dada movement, being used by Man Ray and Francis Picabia who combined it with traditional art.
Artists associated with Dada, especially Hans Arp and Kurt Schwitters, used damaged and reclaimed materials as a strong image of the futility of World War I. Schwitters, in particular, wanted to redeem the beauty and history of everyday items.
A Popular Tradition Today
So using found objects, or objets trouvés in the creation of art is part of a popular tradition today and connects with the desire to recycle materials from landfills and dumps.
The resurgence of interest in using found objects is taking many forms — some recycling and using reclaimed rubbish, relying on expendable materials, and in assemblages. However, as an art form, there is usually some degree of modification of the found object, although not always to the extent that it cannot be recognized.
Many modern and contemporary artists are well known for using found objects in their art. Some of the most important incloude Arman, Joseph Beuys, Traey Emin Damien Hirst, Tony Cragg, and Nam June Paik.