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Postmodernism – Appropriation

Postmodernism – Appropriation
















Written by Luping Zeng 

May 16, 2010 

1.       Introduction

In this paper, I address the theme of appropriation in postmodernism. The practitioners I have chosen are Pablo Picasso (Spain 1881-1973) and Marcel Duchamp (French 1887-1968). The artworks chosen are Picasso’s work “Las Meninas, after Velazquez.” and Marcel Duchamp’s work “L.H.O.O.Q”. Their life lived throughout the modernism and postmodernism time, and they were established as a new philosophy in the postmodernist time. Picasso’s work appropriated an object from 16th century Spanish Baroque artist Diego de Silva y Velazquez’s work “Las Meninas” and 18th center French artist Eugene Delacroix’s work “The Woman of Algiers”. Duchamp’s work appropriated the “Mona Lisa”, from the Italian Renaissance’s artist Leonardo de Vinci’s work “Mona Lisa”. The authors I use are Brassai,Parmelin, Gilot, Amy Dempsey, Cabanne, and Jennifer Mundy.                                                                


Fig. 1 Marcel Duchamp (1887-1968)                         Fig 2. Leonardo da Vinci (1452-1519)

L.H.O.O.Q. (1919)                                                          Mona Lisa. 1503,

Rectified readymade:                                                    Louvre, Paris.

Chromolithograph with mustache, goatee

and title added in pencil

Private collection, paris.     


Fig.3 Pablo Picasso. (1881-1973)                               Fig.4 Diego de Silva y Velazquez (1599-1660)

“Las Meninas after Velazquez”.1957.                       Las Meninas. 1656

Oil on canvas. 75.6 x 93.6 inches.                               Oil on canvas, 318 x 276 cm,

Museum Picasso de Barcelona.                                 Museo del Prado, Madrid

Fig.5 Eugene Delacroix (1798-1863)                         Fig.6 Pablo Picasso

The Women of Algiers, 1833,                                      Women of Algiers (after Delacroix) 1955

Oil on canvas, 69 x 88.5 inches, Lovre, Paris          Oil on canvas, 43.5 x 56.9 inches

2.      Description and analysis of Appropriation in postmodernism

As a postmodern characteristic - Appropriation in art is, to appropriate, borrow, recycle or sample aspects of artificial visual culture. The name appropriation refers to the use of composited elements in the creation of a new work. A typical example was Picasso, the content of earlier art works and the vision of the concept of form and color led his steps forward to reject the techniques of painting. One might think that Appropriation in seeking a radical break with the past thereby freed itself from all mirroring of earlier art. But its anti-traditional arguments went along with its liking for primal taking. Therefore that Picasso’s series of “Las Meninas after Velazquez” 1957 became the philosophy of Appropriation in postmodernism time. “All the documents of all the periods are false. They all represent life as seen by the artists. Every image we have of nature we owe to the painters. It is through their eyes that we see it. That alone would be enough to make it suspect” (Brassai, Brassó, 1899-1984) Nevertheless Picasso created a series appropriated objects from a non-art context into his work. In 1950 to1964, Picasso created series of appropriate object borrowed from art history context and composited these elements into his works. Subsequent compositions, such as portrait of a “Painter, after El Greco”, “the women of Algiers” and “whole compossition”etc, the language of construction which Picasso used to create forms, became categorized as synthetic cubism. Parmelin (Russia, 1946- ) wrote “In September, 1957, while working on the Meninas series, Picasso painted several pictures of the view from the attic window of his house. Their size alone shows that these are no mere ‘by-products.’ Their strong, serene colors rank them with the Infante Margarrita painted a few days earlier. These pictures show all the details of the setting in which Picasso painted the Meninas-pigeons, palm trees and eucalypti, the terraces, the improvised pigeon cote , the view across the sea to the Iles de Lerins.” From Parmelin’s say we understand that Picasso was inspired by Delacroix’s oriental internal became almost unrecognizable in the course of its evolution, although Picasso deviated his model only by gradual degrees. As for instance in the fourth version, which establishes that the reclining woman is to be blue, the seated one red, step by step he arrived at final results, in the antithesis of reclining and seated forms, Picasso repeated a theme which has long held a special place in his art and which is eye-catching for its regular recurrence. The scene for his own purposes was more drastic, the changes Picasso made in Delacroix’s models were more decisive. But we shall understand the stages in the indirect process better if we see Picasso’s adaptation of Delacroix’s model between a sleeping woman and one who watches her sleep as his own reinterpretation of the puzzling human relationship. Gilot (French, 1921- ) argue “A painting has to be trans-formed slowly and sometimes I can’t get to the point of adding that last weight of reflection that it needs. My thought moves rapidly and since my band obeys so fast, in a day’s work I can give myself the satisfaction of having said almost what I wanted to say before I was disturbed had to abandon that thought. Then, being obliged to take up another thought the next day, I leave things as they are, as thoughts that came to me too quickly, which I left too quickly and which I really ought to go back and do more work on. But I rarely get a chance to go back. Sometimes it might take me six months to work over that thought in order to reach its exact weight”. From Gilot’s point of view, we know that Picasso’s philosophy was taking someone else’s image and reworking it in order to be trans-formed new creation. The women of Algiers were painted in Picasso’s Paris studio, it may be said to mark the end of the Vallauris period. In the spring of 1955, Picasso moved from La Galloise to La Californie-a necessary to the continuation of the Women of Algiers interior in the studio-picture. This is not to say that Picasso went about it methodically; he still worked as erratically as ever. A theme which would reach its peak in 1957 in Picasso’s forty-four reworks of Las Meninas by Velazquez. However it is enjoyable to see how were unavoidably and relentlessly his late work moves to the apotheosis of the painter and his form. The relationship was between the Women of Algiers and Meninas series was in fact the La Californie paysages d’interieur, which, as we have seen and deal with Picasso’s own anxiety which was the focus of the painter and his studio.

Picasso’s sudden choice to undertake a description of his work was like taking the unavoidable stair through a door which has long been in the open position. Picasso once said of Velazquez’s great painting: “what a picture, the Meninas. There we have him, the true painter of reality”. By now before he began work, he showed how clear-sighted he was about the project. Even for this vast painting by Velazquez in the Prado he was content with an imitation to facilitate-or perhaps even to make at all feasible – a daring undertaking which would lead him further and further away from the magic realism of the master’s court scene on the way to his own finding. “Nowadays people talk about painting in the same way they do about mini-skirts. Next season it’ll be longer, or it’ll have a fringe on … We want something they’ve never seen, “Something that’ll really puzzle them”. But when you look for that something, everybody’s already seen it, everywhere, with a crease in its trousers” (Parmelin). Picasso in his compositions drew away from Velazquez, detail became independent, and even the painter’s big dog was replaced by Picasso’s dachshund, Lump. In five versions Picasso modified himself to the overall structure of his model; several times he accommodated himself to its tall format. Velázquez’s studio began to look more and more like Picasso’s own abode. But the intense kaleidoscopic analysis to which he subjected all his innovative themes, even the versions that conform to the model disclosed. However Picasso incorporated aspects of the real world into his canvases, opening up discussion of signification and artistic representation. Either art practices engage the appropriation of ideas, symbols, objects forms or styles from other cultures, from art history, from popular culture or other aspects, visual or non visual, of culture. Inherent in the process of appropriation is the fact that the new works re-contextualize whatever it borrows to create the new work. In most cases the original thing remains were accessible as the innovative, without change. Interchangeably are sometimes used by Appropriation. In that time, Picasso’s works were demonstrated his philosophy to create new art style in postmodernism appropriation.

Another typical example was from Marcel Duchamp, he was born 6 years later than Picasso and he was called a playful man in the art area. Through revolutionary actions such as taking the “Mona Lisa” image and naming it “L.H.O.O.Q”, he liked to confront conservative thought about creative processes and art marketing. It was not so much by script when he undertook it. He shaped a quite few artworks, while moving quickly throughout the Appropriation circles of his time. In 1919, Duchamp made a caricature of the Mona Lisa with a mustache and goatee by adorning the figure in that painting as a guy. To did this he added the caption L.H.O.O.Q., a phonetic script which, when read out loud in French hastily “Elle a chaud au cul”. “Duchamp’s act of common vandalism on a cheap reproduction of Leonardo de Vinci’s Mona Lisa in 1919 had been intended as provocation. The gratuitous addition of a beard and goatee, and the letters L.H.O.O.Q. expressed a reference to Leonardo da Vinci’s supposed homosexuality.”(Jennifer, 2008: 43) Mention to Leonardo da Vinci’s supposed homosexuality. It may also have been indented as a Freudian funny story. This can be translated as referring to a state of sexual enthusiasm and accessibility.

Duchamp gave a movable conversion of L.H.O.O.Q. for his readymade. “Duchamp took enormous pleasure in puns, which, according to Lydie (who found them unfunny), he delighted in inventing whenever he could. He obviously enjoyed the homophones in the phrase ‘Francis Picabia est une vis qui a des vies’ (‘a screw that has vices’), which probably played with the English slang meaning of screw.”  (Jennifer, 2008: 38) At that time, Duchamp produced multiple translations of L.H.O.O.Q. of varies sizes and in different media during his career, as was the case with a number of his ready-mades one of which, framed on card, is called L.H.O.O.Q. Shaved-an original black and white copy of the Mona Lisa main responses to L.H.O.O.Q. He construed its connotation as being an assault on the illustrated Mona Lisa and traditional art, therefore supporting the Appropriation concepts. Maybe Duchamp decided to use his ready-mades to not only analyzes established art principles, but to also force the viewers to put away what they had consideration before and seemed at something with a fully different viewpoint. By inventing the new viewpoint, he produced a new classic work of art. The L.H.O.O.Q. aspect of the cards was concurrently: aesthetic and had “the appeal of chess for him’ (Cabanne, 1971, 19) Cabanne goes on to make the point that this appeal lay in patterns of movement and in the beauty of conceiving a succession of moves in his mind.” (Cabanne, 1971, 19) When he took Leonardo de Vinci’s work “Mona Lisa” and reproduced it as his L.H.O.O.Q., the artistic strategies of Copying and Appropriation that were working in Duchamp’s work as early as 1919. In his artistic career, he later accepted a critical junction point. It was then that he made a decision intentionally to seek an alternative to established artistic, they only mirrored his sole artistic enthusiasm, something less actually sensitive than painting something they would eliminate him from the system of creative works of art. Although he had gone through a Cubism phase in his own development as a painter, he eventually grew to detest what he called the skill in painting, the personal handiwork detectable in all works of art that made it possible for viewers to identify an artist’s unique style. Ultimately, he came to depict artists like Picasso as just Transparent Masks who painted for the great pleasure of splashing greens and reds together and having fun. Whereas he acknowledged that a certain degree of aesthetic enjoyment could be derived from presentation descriptions of this style, his emphasis that it’s just pure retinal vision and they can’t call it mind. Duchamp’s answer to this aesthetic quandary was to accept a more borrow reproduction method, thus removing his hands from the creative process. Perhaps it will be the task of an artist as separate from aesthetic obsessions and as targeted on the active as Marcel Duchamp, to resolve art and the people. Duchamp would release remarks as little more than a joke. He confessed that that is what he was going to do. Indeed, the full implications what Duchamp was about to get on upon were something not even has totally probable: An artistic process that allowed Duchamp to remove himself from the bodily creation of the work, the creation of the Appropriation, as he spoken it years later. Appropriation allowed Duchamp to take them into the humour of aesthetics, a logical act whereby he condensed the conceptual aesthetic reflection to the option of the brain, not to the capability or expertise of the hand. 

In 1960, Duchamp met some of his old friends in Paris, he was produced a new oil on wood copy of Leonardo’s Mona Lisa, a flea market gaining that someone was given as a mock prize at a party. Duchamp presented to produce some expansions, and asked for some paints and a few small brushes, when everyone commented on what a poor copy it was. Duchamp painted on the mustache and goatee, but when he was completed it, just as he had when he transformed the original. Everyone consented that he had renovated the copy into a masterwork. This issue signified that innovative ideas are rather valuable. Another golden moment concluded Appropriation by postmodernism. “The Mona Lisa with a beard and a moustache – are bold, iconoclastic attacks on the undisputed heroes of the art world. Duchamp’s Mona Lisa employs the sort of visual and verbal joke so loved by Duchamp……” (Amy, 2002, 116) Further than this critical, exactly what Amy might have deemed about Duchamp and the appropriate of his work to his notion on taking reproduction was appreciated. However, as the current study wishes to exhibited, both the practices and theoretical intrinsic in imitating an exceptional work of art in numerous form was issues that. Indeed, as a result, it could be argued that they signified the unique most significant contribution his work had produced to the art of 20th century. I believe, it can be outlined to the focal point of Duchamp’s creative works. During this period Duchamp’s fascination with conversion, change, and taking became obvious, he was schemed with the conceptual description of Appropriation in postmodernism.


3. Conclusion

In conclusion, I would like to say that it was extremely demonstrative and essential to build up new conceptual art with postmodern characteristics, through Picasso and Duchamp’s use of composite elements in the creation of their new works. Their common viewpoints were to discard the philosophies of traditional art. But the difference between them which Picasso reflected on that appropriation in seeking a radical break with the past in doing, so to create freedom in art without any principles or techniques, and Duchamp’s revolutionary actions were through confront conservative to make joke, which consideration about creative processes and art marketing. However, I do believe that Picasso and Duchamp’ accomplishments signified the uniqueness of art, and their significant contribution through their works had produced to the broader frameworks of postmodernism; it is also applied by today art.


4.      Reference list:

1) Jennifer Mundy, ‘Duchamp Manray Picabia’ (2008), 1. The art of friendship, p.38

2) Jennifer Mundy, ‘Duchamp Manray Picabia’ (2008), 1. The art of friendship, p.43

3) Cabanne, ‘it’s the imagining of the movement or of the gesture that makes the beauty, in this case, it’s completely in one’s gray matter’, 1971, p. 42

4) Amy Dempsey, ‘Art in the Modern Era’ a guide to styles, schools and movements 1860 to the present (2002), Dada, p. 116    

5) Appropriation in Art, Viewed 8th May 2010

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6) Leonardo da Vinci, Viewed 8th May 2010,

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7) Art is Alive, Viewed 10th May 2010

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8) La historia del cuadro, Viewed 10 May 2010

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9) Eugene Delacroix, Viewed 10 May 2010

<http://www. >

10) Madame Pickwick Art Blog Art and media blog of the unexpected, Viewed 8th May 2010

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11) Picasso text 1996, Viewed 8th May 2010



Posted by Luping (Bruce) Zeng on 6/8/10 | tags: figurative conceptual

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