Though Bicycle Wheel predates Duchamp’s use of the word “readymade”—a term he coined after moving from Paris to New York in 1915—it is the earliest example of this class of groundbreaking artworks. Like most of Duchamp’s existing readymades, MoMA’s Bicycle Wheel is a later version of an earlier creation, made for a 1951 exhibition at the Sidney Janis Gallery in New York. As was his penchant at that point in his career, Duchamp found others to do much of the work for him: Sidney Janis, the gallery’s owner, selected the bicycle wheel while in Paris and found the stool in Brooklyn, and Duchamp put the two together. What mattered to Duchamp was the transmission of a readymade’s concept, not its exact physical appearance.

Bicycle Wheel distinguishes itself from all of the artist’s subsequent readymades by virtue of its central object’s implicit movement, a quality Duchamp appreciated for its calming effects.