Artist Gets Into the Head of Duchamp, literally
By Jenny Fan
posted: 04-21-11
Duchamp, The Anatomy of Skulls by Istvan Laszlo, Sebastian Guinness Gallery, 2010
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Marcel Duchamp’s gesture of drawing a mustache and a goatee on the Mona Lisa in L. H. O. O. Q. (1919) redefined art and our perception of art in the twentieth and twenty-first centuries.  At first glance, or using Duchampian rhetoric, “retinal art,” we see only the sexually ambiguous Mona Lisa espoused by her feminine fingers and bosoms, and a masculine, albeit comical, goatee.  By that interpretation, Duchamp only redefined art by deconstructing or mutilating ready-mades, which amply sums up the concept of ready-made. Unless we are content with that rakish interpretation, an insult to the integrity and intelligence of the artist, L.H.O.O.Q. deserves another look.  (see, for example, an article from ASRL for an analysis on the subject).  The complexity of L.H.O.O.Q., however, isn’t the focus of this news bite. It is, though, about the idea of the manifestation of interpretations; of “retinal,” visual perceptions manifested on canvas in the form of a skull sketch by a young Romanian artist name Istvan Laszlo. It follows the reverse trajectory of the analysis to L.H.O.O.Q.  Whereas  L.H.O.O.Q. challenges retina interpretation, Laszlo's skull sketches restore it to garner meaning.

In his tribute to an eclectic mix of some of the world's most prominent figures, albeit by a somewhat morbid method, Istvan Laszlo, (b. 1981), sketched their skulls. In a series titled “The Anatomy of Skulls,” Laszlo featured the cranium sketches of Pope John Paul, Gandhi, Mother Theresa, Lennon, Michael Jackson, Mao, Lenin, Warhol, Beuys, Hitler, and of course, (but actually a surprising choice given the selection of the rest), Duchamp. 

Laszlo’s sketch of Duchamp’s cranium is easily ascribable as Duchamp. Not only does it follow the observable structure of Duchamp’s skull, but it also is embellished with Duchamp’s identifiable fine and slicked back hair style, as well as his thin, pursed and thoughtful lips.  Another amateur dally into the analysis of anatomy from the writer is Duchamp’s frown, as represented by the downward inclined/depressed supraorbital process (?) or the eye sockets, perhaps too, defending the stereotype of that of the pensive artist.

Duchamp’s skull sketch isn’t unique being the only one with identifiable characteristics germane to the individual.  Laszlo depicted Gandhi with round, enlarged eye sockets and Warhol with his (early) trademark, slick, shiny and platinum gold (to the imagination) locks. If the L.H.O.O.Q. was the emblem of the destruction of retinal interpretation, then Laszlo's skull drawings seems to be the antithesis of it; at least when using the arguments of the weaknesses of visual perceptions.

In any case, what's next? Side views of infamous Skulls? Cranium drawing of the Mona Lisa or the L.H.O.O.Q.?

The Anatomy of Skulls by Istvan Laszlo is in holding at the Sebastian Guinness Gallery in Dublin, Ireland.

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