With the bold intention of repurposing existing and often iconic artistic imagery, those who create appropriation art borrow or copy in order to reframe it and make it their own. Whether it be a commercial artefact like a soup can, or a universally recognisable piece of fine art; appropriation art has been around for centuries, though the mid-20th century rise of consumerism led to a newfound significance and prevalence. Join us in exploring some of the most iconic works of appropriation art in contemporary art history.
First conceived in 1919 as one of his infamous readymades, Duchamps’ term for his artistic process that took everyday objects and reformulated them to be seen in a new perspective, L.H.O.O.Q. is a postcard reproduction of Leonardo da Vinci’s ubiquitous Mona Lisa which has been doodled upon to include a moustache and beard in pencil. Recreated multiple times throughout his career, in various formats; the works’ title L.H.O.O.Q., is in itself a joke, when the letters pronounced in French sound out “Elle a chaud au cul“, the equivalent of crudely saying “she is horny.” By reformatting the Mona Lisa on the cheap postcard to have masculinised features, Duchamp is able to poke fun and question preconceived notions of both gender and high art.
Deborah Kass’ Warhol Project
Appropriation artist Deborah Kass began her new series The Warhol Project in 1992. Based on the mass produced screen prints Warhol created in the 1960s Kass took this universally-recognisable stylistic language and turned it on its head, using significant women in art and culture as her subjects. By depicting artists and scholars that were her own personal heroes (such as Cindy Sherman, Barbra Streisand, Elizabeth Murray, and Linda Nochlin) in place of sitters like Jackie Kennedy and Marilyn Monroe, Kass was able to create a feminist revision of art history through the imagery of one its most famous male protagonists. With other works she directly and boldly challenged the traditions of patriarchy — in replacing Warhol with herself in his self-portraits she confronted gender representations in art and an alternative history where powerful women are seen at the fore.
Andy Warhol’s Campbell’s Soup Cans
Thirty-two canvases, one for each of the flavours of canned Campbell’s soup, comprise Andy Warhol’s infamous Campbell’s Soup Cans. Utilising a combination of projection and tracing with painting and stamping Warhol replicated the nearly identical image thirty times over — stressing the ubiquity of the products’ appearance and calling into question the originality of art. No stranger to the appropriation of consumerist imagery, Campbell’s Soup Cans were some of Warhol’s final painted works, before he discovered the silk screen printing technique that he would employ to realise the majority of his oeuvre. A firm believer that art should belong to the masses, Warhol’s appropriation art helped to define Pop Art as a movement, and in turn became a frequent target of appropriation artists himself.
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