Artist Sturtevant challenged the notions of authorship by making versions of the works of contemporaries including Andy Warhol, James Rosenquist, Jasper Johns, and Marcel Duchamp. This fall, MoMA presents the first American overview of her work.
One day in 1964, Sturtevant began “repeating” the works of her contemporaries, annexing the styles of the art around her. Her first examples were a Jasper Johns Flag and a series of Andy Warhol Flowers, for which she employed Warhol’s own silkscreen. She described that she was using familiar things “as catalysts to dispose of representation,” giving us something new that somehow avoided the appearance of newness. “I wanted to use an object that was not an object, and yet presented itself as an object,” she said, “as a means of probing the understructure.”
Over the next five decades, she continued to make use of some of the most iconic art of her time—by Joseph Beuys, Marcel Duchamp, Keith Haring, and Frank Stella, among many others—in her own project. Describing her work as “the immediacy of an apparent content being denied,” Sturtevant enacted a kind of double trouble that challenged notions of originality and authorship, and encouraged us to look harder. “What you see is what you see,” Stella famously asserted the year Sturtevant began making her art the art of others, but she makes clear that it is never so simple. Her art complicates the ways we look, and the manner in which we understand what we see, demonstrating that what we see is in fact obscured by what we know, what we like, and what we think we are supposed to like. For a Sturtevant work to do its work, we realize, it first has to appear as what it is not. Her art is a lesson in non-conformity, paradoxically dressed up as everything else.
“Sturtevant: Double Trouble” opens at The Museum of Modern Art, New York, November 9, 2014.