I think it would be a mistake to try to relegate the readymade and its many relations to some other category. The point of Duchamp’s intervention (unless you fall into the camp that thinks Fountain was just a stunt) was to throw into question what people thought they knew about art, and to force them to contend with art’s philosophical bounds and the constraints of bourgeois “good taste.” When people these days say “that’s not art,” it’s often because their understanding of art history is limited -- they have no frames of reference for processing why a bicycle wheel on a stool should be considered art, much the same way I have no frame of reference sometimes for certain kinds of avant-garde music or theoretical physics. Most of the time I know better than to dismiss what I don’t understand, but I’m afraid lots of people have a much lower tolerance for anything that makes them feel uneducated or alienated. As I tell my students, “I don’t like that” or “I don’t get it” is a much more accurate way to respond to such work, and it opens the door to actual understanding (if you’re open to the explanation).
I was brought up solidly within the Conceptual milieu where Duchampian thinking was de rigeur. All of the avant-garde mediums and practices were celebrated and taught. So if and when I encountered something new the thing to ask was not is it art, but what does it do?
The people who are naturally defensive toward avant-gardes need to address creative functionality rather than aesthetic justification