Tuesday, July 22, 2014

Dada (pt. 4)

Two years later, Marcel Duchamp submitted yet another ridiculous and controversial work of art that criticized the art institution of the time.  The artist submitted this photograph print of the Mona Lisa with a carefully drawn moustache and drew at the bottom the letters "L. H. O. O. Q."
Duchamp visited a museum and did what all tourists do: he spent a lot of time in the gift shop.  It was there that he noticed all of the nice postcards and replica prints that people were buying.  He purchased this print of the Mona Lisa, took it home, and drew a moustache on it in pencil.  That year, in 1919, he submitted it to the salon with the absurd (and offensive) title, L.H.O.O.Q.  These letters, though harmless of themselves in their apparently random sequence, form a sentence when spoken out loud.  When said in French, the title resembles the sounds in the sentence, "Elle a chaud au cul," which translates into an obscene sentence.  This again was met by understandable incredulity on the part of the board of art critics, and Duchamp's defense this time was that he had found the item initially as part of an art gallery and had added his own "addition" to the creative input; therefore why should it not be viewed as art?
…So, it's hard to take this seriously, and I don't think it's meant to be taken seriously.  However, once again, this "print" has become a certified and famous work of art now.  And perhaps it is accredited with such a high status in the art world now for the ideas which it conveys: the notions that art can be anything and that it should never be strictly limited or narrowed down to a singularly definitive institution.  The rebellious spirit expressed in works like L.H.O.O.Q. says something about the nature of art (or at least, art as it has come to be made manifest today).  Works like this are emblematic of art as an entity; that this work says something "about art."  What is art?  Can anything be art?  What should the goal of art be?  And who can be an artist?  All these and other questions arose from the Dada criticism of the art world in the late 1910s and early 1920s, and they are (despite the humorous approach taken to them) relevant questions which still influence our notions of art today.  Drawing a moustache on the Mona Lisa is funny, but it accomplishes something, too, at the same time.  It's making a statement to submit such a thing to a prestigious art salon.  What do you think?  Is this art?

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