‘This painting directly relates to my installation that covered the entire lobby floor of MoMA in 1999. I was commissioned by John Elderfield to create the introduction to his exhibition marking the millenium, Modern Starts: Things. As part of that installation I selected three objects each representing, I thought, a critically different approach to the idea of ‘things’ in 20th century art and design: Thonet’s Bentwood Chair, Duchamp’s Bicycle Wheel, and Rietveld’s Red and Blue Chair . The three objects were shown together on a single plinth at the entrance to the exhibition. This is my painting of them.’
— M. CRAIG-MARTIN
Spanning over three metres in width, Untitled is a monumental example of Michael Craig-Martin’s distinctive pictorial language. With its clean-cut graphics and flat technicolour surface, the work presents an enigmatic mise-en-scène: iconic chairs by Gebrüder Thonet and Gerrit Rietveld flank Marcel Duchamp’s historic readymade Bicycle Wheel. Unlike many of his paintings, which juxtapose everyday household items, the present work is rooted in Craig-Martin’s typology of art and design objects. Along with the anglepoise lamp, Duchamp’s Fountain and René Magritte’s pipe – among others – this particular group of motifs extends the artist’s investigation into the way in which our own creations define the world around us. Recurring throughout his paintings in different combinations, they operate like elements of a higher-order language – one whose rules remain unknown and whose messages remain indecipherable. By choosing items to which art-historical value has already been ascribed, Craig- Martin prompts us to question our tendency to read objects in narrative terms. As Peter Reed has explained, ‘[t]he quality of simultaneous identity and difference, of knowing and not knowing how an object fits into the common language world of objects is heightened in the kinds of objects that are found in museums’ (P. Reed, ‘Common and Uncommon Things’, in Modern Starts: People, Places, Things, exh. cat., Museum of Modern Art, New York, 2000, p. 297). Planned digitally using a computer, and meticulously hand-rendered in paint, the present work was also translated into a wall painting, which was exhibited as part of an installation at the Museum of Modern Art, New York, in the year of its creation.