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Friday, July 26, 2013

Art Parody

Move over Mona, you have competition in the parody parade.
Duchamp may have been the
first, but certainly not the last.
Marcel Duchamp may have been the first, in 1919, when he took a pencil and impudently violated the artistic sanctity the Mona Lisa by decorating her upper lip with a handlebar moustache. He then retitled his postcard image L.H.O.O.Q. (in French èl ache o o qu). You don't get it? It's a bad pun. Also, it helps to be French. When pronounced in French it comes out "Elle a chaud au cul", which, translated into English, comes out: "She is Really Horny." Even for Duchamp, it's a long way to go for a joke. Thirty-five years later, Salvador Dali, whose trademark happened to be Duchamp's handlebar moustache, couldn't resist the temptation to paint his own parody version, Self-Portrait as the Mona Lisa. Since then, poor Mona has been the butt of more desecrating bad jokes than any art in history, perhaps even any lady in history.

The Persistence of Cookies, Joel Schick
Marge Simpson as seen by Vermeer?
Actually, it's the work of Dave Barton.
But, Mona has competition. Grant Wood's American Gothic pair are huge, obvious targets (top). Of course, Dali has taken his hits too with Joel Schick's parody The Persistence of Cookies (above). Schick mainly specializes in ripping off Sesame Street characters; Dali was simply a convenient vehicle. Vermeer's lovely Girl with a Pearl Earring has taken on the persona of Marge Simpson (right). It would appear Marge prefers pearl necklaces to earrings (or at least artist, Dave Barton, does).

Rockwellian parody--Some parody
art has more bite than humor.

With all due respect to Grant Wood, Norman Rockwell (left) may well be the most parodied American artist of all time. Some of the satirical images of his Thanksgiving Freedom from Want have become nearly as familiar as the original painting. The first key element in any art parody is familiarity; and Rockwell is nothing if not familiar. Actually, going beyond that, perhaps over-familiarity might be a better term. Second, is that the desecration of the sacrosanct work of art must be unexpected, which translates into humor, yet have a degree of topical relevance. Third, it must be technically adept. Clumsy art of any kind gets no respect. In parody, it becomes pretentious. Perhaps one of the most parodied works of art to be found anywhere involves Leonardo again, his Last Supper. However, as overly familiar as it is, the work is first of all too easy a target; and beyond that, too reverently beloved to carry with it the requisite humor, which parody demands. Glen Tarnowski's The Gathering (below), is a recent controversial example. The term, "sick," comes to mind.

The Gathering, 2012, Glen Tarnowski. This is mild compared to some I've seen.
Below is an example of art parody that lacks all these key ingredients. The original art is not only unfamiliar but quite Christmas card mundane. The attempt at parody bears no humor because it lacks relevance, not to mention any element of surprise. Not only that, it's crudely presented. With today's photo doctoring software, the technical end is often seen as fairly simple; but as with all art, the headwork is far more important than any "mousework."

Original                                         Parody

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