In the opening decades of the twentieth century, artist Marcel Duchamp turned the art world on its ear. Always on the outskirts of popular art movements, he experimented with post-impressionism, cubism, and futurism before leaving traditional artwork behind and almost single-handedly inventing conceptual art. His new work abandoned what he called retinal art, art designed only to please the eye. Instead Duchamp’s new work was purely intellectual, designed to make the viewer think. His influence on all art that followed is incalculable.
In August Rose’s debut novel, The Readymade Thief, 17-year-old Lee is a sort of artist too. She’s a born thief. Stealing comes second nature to her and gives her a way to connect with her classmates. She steals for them and they welcome her into their cliques. But Lee never really fits in. When the police show up at school investigating a larger crime, her friends make her the scapegoat, sending her off to juvenile detention. She doesn’t fit in there either and quickly uses her talents to escape.
Now homeless and a fugitive from the police, Lee falls in with a group of runaway teens led by the enigmatic “Station Master” a creepy machiavellian, a drug dealer, and probably a pimp. Oh yeah. He’s also a member of the Société Anonyme (a nefarious secret society obsessed with the artwork of Marcel Duchamp) that has sinister plans for Lee.
The Readymade Thief reads like a younger, grimier version of The Da Vinci Code, with Lee analyzing the work and life of a great artist for secrets and clues that will unlock a mystery. There’s another mystery in the novel. What does it all mean? As Duchamp said, “The artist performs only one part of the creative process. The onlooker completes it, and it is the onlooker who has the last word.”
Augustus Rose will visit Eisenhower on February 4th to discuss The Readmade Thief.