Andrew W. Mellon Undergraduate Fellow in the Humanities
2011—2012 Forum on Adaptations
Taking Barbs at Masterpieces: Pun and Palimpsest in Marcel Duchamp's L.H.O.O.Q.
With just a few scribbles and an off-color pun, Marcel Duchamp's L.H.O.O.Q. effectively presages the demise of the visual form. The age of mechanical reproduction reduced masterpieces into piffling commodities, evidenced by the very postcard on which Duchamp draws, and extinguished the aura that once characterized these august works. Though widely considered just another contribution to the artist's readymade series, L.H.O.O.Q. in fact accomplishes a task unique to its form: as a palimpsest, it succeeds in giving new meaning to an otherwise immutable cultural icon. Morbid humor is employed here as a method of adaption, desecrating the Mona Lisa not only to challenge the very definition of art – as his other readymades had done – but also to proclaim the death of the masterpiece.