Marcel Duchamp’s LHOOQ exemplifies his use of readymades to undermine preconceptions surrounding art. Within this piece, Duchamp defaces a reproduction of one of the world’s most famous paintings, the Mona Lisa. Singulart takes a closer look at LHOOQ and the life of Marcel Duchamp.
Who was Marcel Duchamp?
Marcel Duchamp (1887-1968) was born in Blainville, Normandy in a family where all his siblings also became artists. From 1904-1905 he studied at the Académie Julian and his early paintings were influenced by Matisse, Fauvism and Post-Impressionism. In 1911, he developed his own style of Cubism, which was equally Futurist in its inspirations and characterized by his 1912 work, Nude Descending a Staircase. From 1913, Duchamp rejected what he described as “retinal” art and began to make “readymades”. The readymades were appropriated everyday objects, which Duchamp used to question the notion of art and to remove the notions of adoration and attraction surrounding art which he found unnecessary. His first readymade was the 1913 version of Bicycle Wheel, in which he mounted a wheel on a wooden stool. Another of his most famous readymades was Fountain, which was made up of a urinal signed R. Mutt. Duchamp’s readymades had a huge influence on the conventional understanding of art and paved the way for many other revolutionary artists to follow.
After the outbreak of World War I, most of Duchamp’s friends left Paris to serve at the Front, however Duchamp, who was exempt from service due to a heart murmur, decided to emigrate to America. After the success of Nude Descending a Staircase, Duchamp was able to finance the move himself and was met with relative fame upon his arrival in New York. During this time, along with artist Francis Picabia, he was part of the New York Dada group and developed his ideas around “anti-art” and kinetic art that he had already begun with the readymades.
Duchamp also worked under pseudonyms, such as Rrose Sélavy, which he used in addition to his readymades to question the romanticization of the artist figure. He was also interested in music and made several aleatoric compositions which influenced the work of John Cage in the 1950’s. From 1918, Duchamp largely stopped producing art and began to play chess. He traveled to Buenos Aires to play before continuing to live between Paris and New York, staying more permanently in Greenwich Village from 1942. During this period, he was more of a consultant to artists, dealers and collectors. He died in 1968 at his home in Neuilly-sur-Seine in France.
What’s happening in LHOOQ?
Marcel Duchamp’s LHOOQ is an iconic example of his readymades, or as the French artist put it, a ‘rectified readymade’. This form of art consisted of appropriating an everyday object and somehow changing it, with a subtle reversal and signature (as seen with Fountain) or by adding a mustache and beard, as is the case with LHOOQ. Here, Duchamp took a found postcard of Leonardo da Vinci’s Mona Lisa, adding a beard and mustache in pencil, with the title underneath.
The title is a pun on the French expression “Elle a chaud au cul” which has multiple explicit translations, one of them being “she has a hot ass”. As with most of his readymades, Duchamp made many versions of LHOOQ. Notably, there was one made with Francis Picabia who was eager to publish it in his magazine 391, so he simply recreated it himself but forgot the goatee. Duchamp later added the goatee and labelled it “Moustache par Picabia / barbiche par Marcel Duchamp / avril 1942”.
LHOOQ encompasses many of the central issues of Duchamp’s readymades as well as other elements of his work. We see the questioning of hierarchies and inherent qualities within art along with Duchamp addressing the concept of gender, which he also did with his female alter-ego Rrose Selavy. LHOOQ has had a huge influence on artists and the history of art, with Salvador Dali, Fernand Leger and René Magritte among others recreating their own versions of this iconic readymade.