From William Tucker, The Language of Sculpture, Thames and Hudson, 1974:
“Duchamp, Tatlin, Rietvald and others, whatever their own beliefs as to the significance of what they were doing, produced objects which can now be seen to belong to modern sculpture, just as they themselves were embedded in and formed by the traditions they variously repudiated. The process of reclaiming their work for sculpture has been protracted; and, as the career of Giacometti shows, the premature exploitation of their discoveries resulted in an ingenious but essentially sterile academicism. It is only in the last few years, when the proscription of all materials except wood, stone and bronze has finally been relaxed and sculpture has recovered a natural scale relationship with the human figure, that the potential of gestalt, scale, structure and material implicit in the work of these artists could be appreciated and used.
Duchamp’s Readymades are elements of Cubist still-life released from the medium of painting. There are inevitable difficulties with these pieces, such as the problem of being unable to see them except in photographs or in the inferior multiple copies that Duchamp released at the end of his life. Certainly, Duchamp’s proclaimed attitude toward these works, the uninspired character of most of his subsequent work, and the use to which the Readymades have been put, justifying a flood of feeble imitations, must all add up to a pretty strong case against taking the originals seriously.
Yet I was enormously affected by the image of the Bottle Rack when I first saw it as sculpture, however it came into existence and whatever its history and exploitation, and find that I still am. The same holds true for the urinal, the snow shovel, the hat rack. By comparison, the rest of Duchamp’s work, before and after, seems contrived, over-elaborate, clever, whimsical, mechanical and boring. The Bottle Rack and the other pieces I mentioned are inspired: they do not work simply on their incongruity, as useful objects in an art context; in fact their detachment from the original context, except the snow shovel, makes them virtually unrecognizable except as sculpture, i.e in terms of their abstract properties – image, proportion, structure and use of material. This is the inversion of Duchamp’s professed intention to make art unnecessary by substituting common mass-produced objects for art objects. However, the whole enterprise depended on the general cultural structure built around the making and appreciation of art, the needs it satisfies and the expectations it creates. Duchamp could not escape being part of this structure, and while in the short term his betrayal of his own talent may have diminished art, I am convinced that the effect of his best work will in the end be seen to have enlarged it. The Readymades witness how Duchamp, his taste and sensibility sharpened by the competitiveness of Cubist Paris, where he had arrive too late for his contribution to be anything but academic, found in exile in New York mechanically fabricated objects whose completeness, simplicity and order must have seemed but a step from the stripped and dismembered bottle, glasses and guitars of Braque and Picasso’s collage of 1912-15. The formal integrity which these objects possess is typical of a great number of useful objects in general circulation in the nineteenth century where function, economy and efficiency had been the only determinants of design. It was Duchamp’s achievement, in spite of himself, to bring this whole area of form and use of materials into sculpture, where subsequently it has been untapped, except in the work of David Smith, who was the first to incorporate tools and machine parts into sculpture for their abstract rather than image quality. However the abstract formal power of the Bottle Rack as a total configuration is still unequaled in sculpture.”