You are walking by a stream, look down, see something shiny and fish it out – it’s a diamond. You are suddenly rich because you have found this “found object.”

Like that diamond, a dime under a rug, discovered when sweeping the floor – while it won’t make you wealthy – is also a found object.

But a dime found in a Lou Hirshman caricature is not.

When the Philadelphia artist made his first caricature in 1935, the subject was millionaire John D. Rockefeller, the Standard Oil magnate. And surrounding the profiled carved sandstone face of the richest man in the United States was a 10-cent coin. The dime, a reference to the popular Great Depression-era song “Buddy, Can You Spare a Dime?” about the handout-seeking poor, was not a found object. It was in Hirshman’s eyes a seen object.

In art, the term “found object” can be a misnomer, linguistic shorthand to heap praise upon the clever Columbus-like “discoverer” of a New World. But an object that is found implies an object that was lost. In almost every case, the parts of Hirshman’s work were not unearthed diamonds in the rough that had been waiting to be found. They were dimes, in plain view, waiting to be seen as the eye of a rich man.

Hirshman had a second-sight – it recognized that juxtaposed shapes and harmonized items could make a New World. The banana nose of Hirshman’s Castro was not an object found; it was a shape seen. Hitler’s Gestapo glove for hair was never lost; it was an object specifically sought out to suit a purpose. The spools of thread for Groucho’s eyebrows were not buried in a junkyard heap; they were viewed as shapes right for the job that were right before his very eyes.

And the eye of Rockefeller was not an archeological find dug up. Only for the viewer of this artwork, upon the unexpected discovery that Rockefeller’s silver eye was a silver dime, did the coin take on the real meaning of a “found object.”

William P. Hirshman


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