In 1919, Marcel Duchamp penciled a mustache and beard on the Mona Lisa. Of course, it wasn’t on the actual da Vinci painting, but a postcard reproduction. Both the original portrait and its simple alteration are noticeable in Duchamp’s “ready-made” image, L.H.O.O.Q.
In 2015, Greg Fadell printed a digital version of L.H.O.O.Q. and brushed the image with chemicals. Nothing of the Duchamp “original” is outwardly noticeable. Fadell’s overt modification–an obscured graphic of blotched strokes and projected splatters across a wide, white poster surface–dominates the visual experience.
Fadell employed this transformative technique onto several reproductions of canonical art, the products of which were displayed at his Detroit Affinities solo exhibit at the Museum of Contemporary Art Detroit (MOCAD). He altered these inkjet prints and museum posters by brushing the reproduced images with chemical solvents.
“I spent six months researching the right substrate, the right chemicals,” Fadell told Hillary Brody in an interview.
Botched versions of The Birth of Venus and Mike Kelley’s Ahh! Youth were posted at MOCAD on perpendicular gallery walls. In a way, the exhibit leveled the art; no matter how revered any piece is, who created it or what era it represents, it is still vulnerable Fadell’s chemical treatment. Further, any discussions or debates behind a piece’s historical or biographical contexts became overshadowed by the contemporary artist’s abrasive approach–who was admittedly bored by art history.
Fadell’s chemically altered museum poster of Jeff Koons’ Balloon Dog (Red) is arguably the most recognizable one of the original images. While the sculpture’s torso and face are whited out, its bulbous ruby ears, nose, limbs, and tail are mostly unaltered. But across the gallery hung Fadell’s version of George Caleb Bingham’s Fur Traders Descending the Missouri, where the whole scene (except some of the beige sky background) is transformed into a boxy whirlpool of brown scratches and splotches.
Similar to studying the strokes of a painting or imprints on a sculpture, an observer could survey the energy Fadell exerts by brushing onto the prints and posters. Some markings seem slower and more respective of original colorings, while others look rougher and more systematically obliterating.
Fadell’s feature in Detroit Affinities was the artist’s first solo exhibit. It also included a video that played people’s reactions to Antique Roadshows, along with a three-plinth installation where art history books were stacked, cut, or enveloped into one another. As I passed by this part, I overheard a disgruntled museum patron eject, “This isn’t art. He put a book on a book. It’s not art.”
Whatever the case, perhaps Fadell’s personal motivation to spawn products that touch on derivativeness and unoriginality in art is successfully translated through his work.
All photos by Tanya Silverman.