"Lhooq" redirects here. For the musical production alias derived from the rectified readymade, see Jóhann Jóhannsson.
L.H.O.O.Q. (1919). Marcel Duchamp

L.H.O.O.Q. (French pronunciation: [ɛl aʃ o o ky]) is a work of art by Marcel Duchamp. First conceived in 1919, the work is one of what Duchamp referred to as readymades, or more specifically a rectified ready-made.[1] The readymade involves taking mundane, often utilitarian objects not generally considered to be art and transforming them, by adding to them, changing them, or (as in the case of his most famous work Fountain) simply renaming them and placing them in a gallery setting. In L.H.O.O.Q. the objet trouvé ("found object") is a cheap postcard reproduction of Leonardo da Vinci's Mona Lisa onto which Duchamp drew a moustache and beard in pencil and appended the title.[2]


Although many say it was pioneered by him, in 1887 Eugène Bataille created a Mona Lisa smoking a pipe, published in Le Rire.[3]

Eugène Bataillee, La Joconde fumant la pipe, Le Rire, 1887

The name of the piece, L.H.O.O.Q., is a pun; the letters pronounced in French sound like "Elle a chaud au cul", "She is hot in the arse";[4] "avoir chaud au cul" is a vulgar expression implying that a woman has sexual restlessness. In a late interview (Schwarz 203), Duchamp gives a loose translation of L.H.O.O.Q. as "there is fire down below".

As was the case with a number of his readymades, Duchamp made multiple versions of L.H.O.O.Q. of differing sizes and in different media throughout his career, one of which, an unmodified black and white reproduction of the Mona Lisa mounted on card, is called L.H.O.O.Q. Shaved. The masculinized female introduces the theme of gender reversal, which was popular with Duchamp, who adopted his own female pseudonym, Rrose Sélavy, pronounced "Eros, c'est la vie" ("Eros, that's life").[1]

Primary responses to L.H.O.O.Q. interpreted its meaning as being an attack on the iconic Mona Lisa and traditional art,[5] a stroke of épater le bourgeois promoting the Dadaist ideals. According to one commentator:

The creation of L.H.O.O.Q. profoundly transformed the perception of La Joconde (what the French call the painting, in contrast with the Americans and Germans, who call it the Mona Lisa). In 1919 the cult of Jocondisme was practically a secular religion of the French bourgeoisie and an important part of their self image as patrons of the arts. They regarded the painting with reverence, and Duchamp's salacious comment and defacement was a major stroke of epater le bourgeois ("freaking out" or substantially offending the bourgeois).[6]

According to Rhonda R. Shearer the apparent reproduction is in fact a copy partly modelled on Duchamp's own face.[7]

Parodies of Duchamp's parodic Mona Lisa

Pre-Internet era

Internet and computerized parodies

The use of computers permitted new forms of parodies of L.H.O.O.Q., including interactive ones.

One form of computerized parody using the Internet juxtaposes layers over the original, on a webpage. In one example, the original layer is Mona Lisa. The second layer is transparent in the main, but is opaque and obscures the original layer in some places (for example, where Duchamp located the moustache). This technology is described at the George Washington University Law School website.[11] An example of this technology is a copy of Mona Lisa with a series of different superpositions–first Duchamp's moustache, then an eye patch, then a hat, a hamburger, and so on. This is a link to the graphic. The point of this technology (which is explained on the foregoing website for a copyright law class) is that it permits making a parody that need not involve making an infringing copy of the original work if it simply uses an inline link to the original, which is presumably on an authorized webpage.[12] According to the website at which the material is located:

The layers paradigm is significant in a computer-related or Internet context because it readily describes a system in which the person ultimately responsible for creating the composite (here, corresponding to [a modern-day] Duchamp) does not make a physical copy of the original work in the sense of storing it in permanent form (fixed as a copy) distributed to the end user. Rather, the person distributes only the material of the subsequent layers, [so that] the aggrieved copyright owner (here, corresponding to Leonardo da Vinci) distributes the material of the underlying [original Mona Lisa] layer, and the end user's system receives both. The end user's system then causes a temporary combination, in its computer RAM and the user's brain. The combination is a composite of the layers. Framing and superimposition of popup windows exemplify this paradigm.[13]

Other computer-implemented distortions of L.H.O.O.Q. or Mona Lisa reproduce the elements of the original, thereby creating an infringing reproduction, if the underlying work is protected by copyright. (Leonardo's rights in Mona Lisa have, of course, long expired.) This is a link to examples of the foregoing parodies, together with an explanation of the technology. (These animations were originally prepared by the late Professor Ed Stephan of Western Washington University.)


See also


  1. 1 2 Marcel Duchamp, L.H.O.O.Q. or La Joconde, 1964 (replica of 1919 original) Norton Simon Museum, Pasadena.
  2. More recent scholarship suggests that Duchamp laboriously altered the postcard before adding the moustache, including merging his own portrait with that of Mona Lisa. See Marco de Martino, "Mona Lisa: Who Is Hidden Behind the Woman With the Moustache?"
  3. Coquelin, Ernest, Le Rire (2e éd.) / par Coquelin cadet ; ill. de Sapeck, Bibliothèque nationale de France
  4. Kristina, Seekamp (2004). "L.H.O.O.Q. or Mona Lisa". Unmaking the Museum: Marcel Duchamp's Readymades in Context. Binghamton University Department of Art History. Archived from the original on 2006-09-12. External link in |work= (help)
  5. See, for example, Andreas Huyssen, After the Great Divide: "It is not the artistic achievement of Leonardo that is mocked by moustache, goatee, and obscene allusion, but rather the cult object that the Mona Lisa had become in that temple of bourgeois art religion, the Louvre." (Quoted in Steven Baker, The Fiction of Postmodernity, p.49
  6. "L.H.O.O.Q.—Internet-Related Derivative Works."
  7. Martino, Marco De (2003). "Mona Lisa: Who is Hidden Behind the Woman with the Mustache?". Art Science Research Laboratory. Retrieved 2008-04-27.
  8. 1 2 Irish, Sharon (2010). Suzanne Lacy: Spaces Between. Minnesota: University of Minnesota Press. pp. 67, 68. ISBN 978-0-8166-6095-7. Retrieved August 2012. Check date values in: |access-date= (help)
  9. 1 2 Peter Hedstrom,, Peter Bearman (2009). The Oxford Handbook of Analytical Sociology. USA: Oxford University Press. ISBN 9780191615238. Retrieved August 2012. Check date values in: |access-date= (help)
  10. Baron, Robert A. (1973). "Mona Lisa Images for a Modern World". exhibition catalogue. Museum of Modern Art. Retrieved October 2009. Check date values in: |access-date= (help)
  11. This material is part of the George Washington University Law School Cases and Materials for Computer Law 484.
  12. See Perfect 10, Inc. v. Google, Inc.
  13. L.H.O.O.Q.
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