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As the Conceptual influence on Modern Art relies heavily on the incorporation of Found Objects, it was decided to attempt the creation of a "work of art" which might shed light on the process of Conceptual creation and the contribution of a Found Object. Further, since Conceptual art particularly emphasises the pre-eminence of the creative idea over the finished art work, it is appropriate that the artwork contemplated should be created by means of a Thought Experiment.

Thought Experiment

It is midnight. Imagine the aspiring Conceptual artist in his study, sitting at a large table which is pushed up against the wall. On the table immediately in front of him is a pile of books and on the wall behind the table is a large mirror. From where he sits, his view of the tabletop is partly obscured by the pile of books. He can however indirectly see the obscured area of table behind the books by means of it's reflection in the mirror.

Rising to his feet, our Conceptual artist makes his preparations to obtain a random unknown Found Object by putting on a pair of very dark glasses and then by pulling a balaclava over his head, with the eye holes facing backwards, so that he can see absolutely nothing. He then picks up a pair of tongs (which he normally uses for putting coal onto the fire) and then, switching off the light in his study and in the rest of the house, shuffles slowly and blindly out of doors, carrying the tongs and walking across the way to a small wood nearby.

In the pitch dark of the wood, he gets down on his knees and pushes his tongs out in front of him in exploratory fashion in order to locate an unknown Found Object at random. When he feels the tongs encounter an object, he uses them to pick it up with great care and then to carry it back home. Opening his front door, he does not put any lights on but finds his way easily to his study. Feeling his way in the dark, he uses the tongs to place the object carefully on the table, immediately behind the pile of books and in front of the mirror. He then sits down in the dark and, removing his balaclava and glasses, can of course still see nothing because all the lights in the house are off.

He now decides to create his artwork by making it possible to see the reflection in the mirror of the unknown found object he has placed behind the books. He therefore faces forward towards the mirror and switches on the light for just one instant before switching it off again.

To his total surprise, in the moment of light, he sees that there is no reflection of any found object in the mirror because there is apparently no found object on the table behind the books. All he can see is the usual reflection of the books and the bare tabletop. Yet, he is absolutely sure that he had put the object down there on top of the table, behind the books and in front of the mirror.

Sitting in the dark and unable to make sense of what has happened, he decides to make the best of the new situation and name the artwork.

He had wanted the title of the artwork to be "Found Object" but being flexible he now quickly adjusts to the absence of the Found Object and decides upon the amended title of "Lost Found Object" .

Following the naming of his artwork, the artist decides to investigate further and switches on the study light again. This time he leaves the light on. Looking around the room he suddenly sees the explanation for the mystery. There, sitting on the carpet, is a large frog.

Of course, he quickly realises the need to adjust the title of his artwork once again to " Found Lost Found Object" but, on further reflection, decides he can do better than this. In true Conceptualist fashion, he decides on an expansive, explanatory text as a title and soon comes up with:

"Memory of the surprising absence of reflection from a random unknown Found Object which, after installation in the dark, disappeared and then reappeared in a different location."

Our aspiring Conceptual artist knows that the frog cannot now simply be used to recreate the intended artwork since, although a Found Object again, it is now neither random nor unknown. With some foreboding, he realises that, if he is to replicate accurately the originally intended conditions for creating his artwork, he will have to put on his dark glasses and reversed balaclava again and then return to the woods with his questing tongs. In the circumstances, he decides that even a Conceptual artist needs some sleep and therefore retires to bed. He drifts off to sleep happy with the creation of his uniquely surprising artwork.


I am open to offers over £25,000 for the above artwork and would be prepared to re-create it for real at any major UK gallery or exhibition. In justification, we know that some years ago the Tate Gallery Modern paid £22,300 for a tin of the artist Piero Manzoni's excrement which they have coyly catalogued as a "tin can with paper wrapping with unidentified contents." Adjusting for inflation, I think therefore there is now a strong case for £25,000 being a remarkably low price at which to acquire my artwork with the added bonus of avoiding any of the potential Health & Safety downsides of the Manzoni exhibit.
Is that my phone I hear ringing? It's the Tate Gallery Modern on the line. Yes indeed, my artwork is still available but, as it has only just been put on the market, I am evaluating rival offers. Nevertheless, to keep it in Britain I would be prepared to sell here and now to the Tate Gallery Modern for £35,000. Deal? Excellent, I'll be down to London tomorrow to recreate it for you.

David Bailey