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The meaning of Marcel Duchamp’s Lhooq

This anachronistic Carlsbad place is about old books

Alexander: ideal exhibit spot
  • Alexander: ideal exhibit spot

Alexander Dafnis is up a tree.

“This way?” he shouts down.

“No. Now it’s tilting more,” says Alejandra, the gal looking up from the wood-decked courtyard. The camphor tree, originally from China, provides dappled shade, ideal for viewing pictures.

Which is good, because Dafnis is arranging half a dozen of his abstract paintings around the patio — up trees, and on the ground — to sex it up for tonight’s evening of poetry readings and music. It tells you what this anachronistic Carlsbad place is about: old books, odd collectibles, a haven for art, artists, performers, originals. Also thousands of regular books.

Alejandra, new painting, old tree

Alejandra, new painting, old tree

La Joconde, aka Mona Lisa, by Leonardo da Vinci, after getting the mustache treatment by Marcel Duchamp, who gave it the LHOOQ title. Recently sold for $750,000

La Joconde, aka Mona Lisa, by Leonardo da Vinci, after getting the mustache treatment by Marcel Duchamp, who gave it the LHOOQ title. Recently sold for $750,000

But now, says the bookshop’s owner Sean Christopher, he has been told his business Lhooq/Exrealism (“Lhooq Books”) has got to go. Out by mid-November.

A lot of people are upset. Read the 22 comments below Ken Leighton’s recent Reader report. Today, when I pop in, it has a feeling of surreal normality. You think: Dead Man Walking.

But not for Christopher’s assistant Terrance Nealy. “The whole community is behind us,” he says, as he pours my coffee. “I believe we’re going to beat this.”

Sean Christopher, Lhooq’s founder and creative spirit, isn’t quite so optimistic.

“We’re fighting it, but I’m coming up against two things. The generational thing, and AB1482.”

The “generational thing” is the fact that the property’s original owner, Gene Siegel, is now 97 and has health challenges. It’s his son, Ben, who apparently wants Christopher out. “His dad would put Ben on his knee and spank him for this,” says Christopher. “He would say ‘Leave him [me] alone.’”

Lhooq Books, picturesque shack, and its beloved camphor tree

Lhooq Books, picturesque shack, and its beloved camphor tree

Sean Christopher - let the community decide

Sean Christopher - let the community decide

And, the second worry, Christopher says, is the unintended consequence of the new state law, AB1482, recently passed to protect tenants. He says it has provoked property owners statewide to rush to kick out low-paying tenants while they can, before 1482 goes into effect January 1st. “That’s why Ben’s doing this.”

(Attorney Christian Curry of the Tenants Legal Center says he hasn’t noticed an upsurge in evictions since the law was passed.)

Whatever, everyone I’ve talked to on Carlsbad Village Drive is sad — and many mad about losing such an original chunk of old, quirky Carlsbad.

“What about us?” one lady said. “I’m sick of property owners putting money before community. And the landlord [Ben Siegel] is also City Manager of San Juan Capistrano! What’s he going to do next? Tear down the Capistrano Mission to make way for condos? This is a community resource, just like the Mission.”

Terrance Nealy - We will survive

Terrance Nealy - We will survive

I have to ask Sean Christopher one off-topic question: what exactly does “Lhooq” mean? Humor breaks over his serious face. It seems it’s French, from 1919, when the horrors of WW1 had provoked a rebellion in art called Dadaism. Marcel Duchamp created this “Dada tableau,” adding mustache and beard to a print of the Mona Lisa (“La Joconde” in France). And the “Lhooq” letters? Say them aloud in French and they sound like “Elle a chaud au cul,” or, as Duchamp may have indelicately said, “That Joconde is one hot chick.”

Lhooq/Exrealism

755 1/2 Carlsbad Village Dr., Carlsbad

It has been exactly 100 years since the letters “Lhooq” became a symbol of rebellion in the art world. And today, they count nowhere more than Carlsbad, California, where the fight for the life of a special artists’ haven is just heating up.

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