so many paintings, so little time

Repainter Sturtevant

In Uncategorized on June 17, 2010 at 4:13 am

Richard Kalvar, Magnum Photos, Man talking to sleeping friend, Paris, 1974

The repainter has been reposing in Paris. Racing to finish the portraits for my exhibition at James Graham and Sons knocked the paint right out of me. I’m slowly finding my way back to work, though, in my studio in the 10th arrondissement.

Paris is my perfect repainter city. I can waltz out the door of my studio and in 15 minutes be wandering the galleries of the Louvre, where one can find a lifetime worth of top-notch material for new paintings of old. And if the 19th or 20th centuries beckon, it’s a hopstop to the Centre Pompidou or the Musee d’Orsay  (the Louvre is reserved for pre-mid 19th c. for the most part). Over the years I’ve taken paintings from all these museums back to my studio.

Sturtevant, Warhol Flowers, 1969-70

Returning to Paris I had hoped to see a major museum exhibition by another repainter, Elaine Sturtevant, that opened while I was in New York. Her entire long art career has been devoted to remaking mostly sixties and seventies American artworks by the likes of Stella, Lichtenstein, Johns and Warhol. Once, reportedly, she convinced Andy to let her have the silk screen he used for a series to make her own versions. I’ve seen the works, Johns flags, Warhol poppies, etc. They are indistinguishable from the originals. The Musee d’Art Moderne de la Ville de Paris exhibition of her work, “The Razzle Dazzle of Thinking,” closed, turns out, just before I arrived.

How many of her collectors regard her work as low-cost knock-offs? When she was showing at the same gallery as I in SoHo, NY, our dealer at the time told me “Whatever works!” with a wink and a nod. This question set me thinking. You copy a work of art. You present it as a new work of art. The new work carries new meaning, apart from its source: “I was NOT made by Jasper Johns,” it announces emphatically (if the viewer is aware of who actually made it). Perhaps it continues, “I am a simulation of a work by a famous male artist, by a woman artist named Elaine Sturtevant. As a result, you the viewer look at me as….  A fake? A sign of just how crazy sexist the art world continues to be? The clairvoyance of a young artist who knew whom to copy before they got famous? A meditation on the unstable value of an artwork? A provocation about the ($) value of originality?”

Where does this take you beyond the slimier aspects of the art biz? Does the work stay smugly inside the narcissistic regions of the art world today? Is it just another reason for those not enthusiastic (nor informed) about contemporary art to dismiss it as snake oil?

Here’s Sturtevant with the last word (jump ahead to 3 min. 10 sec. in…).

  1. How about this portrait? You could do an infinite number of interesting repaintings of it, I should think!

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