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Collections> Browse Sherrie Levine

Sherrie Levine
Holdings (15)
4 paintings, 3 multiples, 2 sculptures, 1 drawing, 2 photographs, 2 internet art, 1 book

Wikipedia About Sherrie Levine

Sherrie Levine (born April 17, 1947 in Hazleton, Pennsylvania) is an American photographer and appropriation artist. Full Wikipedia Article

essay Sherrie Levine, Walker Art Center Collections, 2005

In 1982, Sherrie Levine was invited to join the roster of artists exhibiting in Documenta 7 in Kassel, Germany. The director was Rudi Fuchs, the Dutch curatorial entrepreneur whose mission was clearly to create his own Gesamtkunstwerk. Joseph Beuys was central to the dynamic, but so too was Hans-Jürgen Syberberg, the German filmmaker who cre-ated the conflicted epic Our Hitler and was invited to premiere his adaptation of Wagner’s Parsifal at Documenta. Additionally, Syberberg contributed an enormous sculpture of Wagner’s head that filled the park in front of the museum. Under the eaves of the Museum Fridericianum were paintings by Anselm Kiefer and Hermann Nitsch, compositions of straw and smoke and blood displayed only in natural light. Circling the museum’s dome was Lothar Baumgarten’s oddly proprietary litany of perished Amazonian tribes emblazoned in mud red and gorgeous serif typeface. The entirety of the exhibition was insistently muscular, filled with Sturm und Drang, and ripe with nostalgia for a kind of folkloric heroicism.

Into this updated version of Hrothgar’s Mead Hall arrived Levine with a suite of photographs entitled After Egon Schiele. The photographs are 14-by-11-inch chromogenic prints of Schiele’s onanistic self-portraits rephotographed from bookplates in catalogues. Now, consider for a moment how utterly bizarre Levine’s contribution to the musky air of Documenta truly was. Copy prints of bookplates of watercolors by a notorious Austrian masturbator with no subject other than himself and his libido were not getting with the program, and Fuchs was not amused. For a moment it looked like the series might be dispatched from the Fridericianum to a more distant venue, but the final decision had them tucked into a neutral corner, where they glistened like a feverish forehead.

In the early 1980s, appropriation was an American strategy practiced primarily by a handful of young New York Conceptualists. Appropriation practiced with the unadorned, flat-footed assertiveness of Levine was totally alien. Furthermore, it was absurd. What was the point? It only made sense if you were an art insider who appreciated the ironic innovation that gave the work its spiky resonance. Or, if you weren’t an insider, it was still possible to simply be seduced or repelled by Levine’s tertiary photographs of the Schiele reproductions. Either way, she struck a nerve that had everything to do with authorship, originality, connoisseurship, testosterone, and the boundaries of artistic practice. At the time it seemed like a cry in the dark; today, it echoes on like a battle cry.

Throughout her career, Levine has managed to keep the art world rattled. The naked appropriation of others’ work, the repurposing of iconic and inane objects, the hermetic simplicity of an art-historical gesture, and the ongoing—occasionally contradictory—utilization of Conceptual strategy have all contributed to her somewhat isolated position. Her career was born in the late 1970s when she was identified as an interesting Conceptualist whose work was purchase-proof and who collaborated brilliantly with her peer Louise Lawler. Both were part of a generation of influential artists, all of whom would later be tagged as Picture Theorists. In addition to Levine and Lawler, the most prominent players in the cast of characters were Sarah Charlesworth, Barbara Kruger, Richard Prince, and Cindy Sherman.

Levine’s most notorious appropriation was the subject of her 1981 exhibition at the newly opened Metro Pictures in New York. After Walker Evans consisted of twenty-two rephotographed pictures of Walker Evans’ legendary Dust Bowl series. Levine had sourced the material from his government-sponsored collaboration with James Agee, the genre-defining book Let Us Now Praise Famous Men. The previous year, she’d rephotographed Edward Weston’s portraits of his ephebic son Neil but was forced to remove them from circulation by the Weston estate. So when, a year later, she took possession of the Evans material, there was no mistaking her determination to append her career to masters of the modern canon. When the exhibition opened, the controversy exploded. Not surprisingly, critical theorists (particularly those associated with October magazine) were delighted to have something so deliciously multitiered, while the arts journalists were delighted to have something to tear apart. In the end, Levine proved the winner insofar as there were far fewer people unaware of her at the close of the exhibition. The Evans series also brilliantly encapsulated the glamorously torqued banality of her best work and cleared the way for further, ever more intricate couplings with artists of some sublimity, such as Man Ray and Marcel Duchamp, and also the gentle humanist cartoonist George Herriman, the creator of Krazy Kat.

For Levine, appropriation is a highly nuanced practice. It is not simply reproducing the reproduction; it also involves imagining beyond the reproduction to place the original in a new relationship with itself. In, for example, a work such as La Fortune (after Man Ray: 3) (1990), she imagines the celestial billiard table portrayed in the Surrealist’s painting La Fortune (1938) right out of its picture frame and into the three-dimensional world, where it sits resolutely on its four chunky legs. Marcel Duchamp’s Fountain (1917) is transformed into a bronze urinal resembling, but distinct from, Duchamp’s “readymade” porcelain original. Levine’s Fountain (after Marcel Duchamp: A.P.) (1991) is anything but readymade and, while retaining a literal element of ironic reflection, it is also an homage to the master of the surrogate self. In 1994, Levine turned to Constantin Brancusi’s Newborn (1915) for a tour de force installation at the Philadelphia Museum of Art in which six white glass sculptures of her Newborns were placed on six grand pianos. She had finally, in her own discreetly outrageous way, entered the world of spectacle. A year later, she crafted another version at the Menil Collection in Houston, this time with black glass heads, allowing the sculptural edition to enter a second, alternate life.

Levine has often chosen to speak about herself by using quotations from a variety of, of course, unacknowledged writers. However, she has occasionally also spoken of her work in a manner at once analytical and heartfelt. One of the most telling statements concerning her work was written for the publication marking her installation in Philadelphia: “Like Brancusi, I am interested in the physical and the sensory. However, I am also interested in the contingent and unstable. I like the aura of happenstance. I like repetition, because it implies an endless succession of substitutes and missed encounters… . I would like you to experience one of those privileged moments of aesthetic negation, when high art and popular culture coalesce. I would like high art to shake hands with its cynical nemesis—kitsch, which in its sentimentality makes a mockery of desire. I would like the meaning of this work to become so overdetermined and congealed that it implodes and brokers a new paradigm.”1

  1. Sherrie Levine, Artist’s statement, in Ann Temkin, ed., Newborn, exh. cat. (Philadelphia: Philadelphia Museum of Art, 1993), 7.

Flood, Richard. “Sherrie Levine.” In Bits & Pieces Put Together to Present a Semblance of a Whole: Walker Art Center Collections, edited by Joan Rothfuss and Elizabeth Carpenter. Minneapolis, MN: Walker Art Center, 2005.

© 2005 Walker Art Center