Anxiety of Influence, a one act
After Sherrie Levine, a one act
After Sherrie Levine
A promethean thief or an immoralist confiscator, Sherrie Levine challenges art at its matrix of model and originality.
A One Act Play By Michael Mandiberg
For the past eight years in Sherrie Levine has dealt with appropriated imagery. Her first confiscations were collages. She cut pictures other books and magazines and glued them on to mats. Since then she is made copies of photographs after a Eliot Porter, Edward Weston, Walker Evans, and Alexander Rodchenko; drawings after Willem de Kooning, Egon Schiele, and Kasimir Malevich; watercolors after Mondrian, Matisse, El Lissitzky, and Leger, to name a few.
Initial shock of discovering the artist's audacity according and mounting fear this artist's work, the question becomes: what then? Does her magnetism rest merely in the paradox of originality through copies? Does she recast the principle of the copy in a new and contemporary light? Why does she choose only male artists to copy? How does she view her own work and the considerable rhetoric that is gathered around it?
Jeanne Siegel: You were educated at the University of Wisconsin. How did this influence your direction it, if indeed it did at all?
Sherrie Levine: I think growing up in the Midwest certainly did. I grew up in St. Louis and I went to school Wisconsin for eight years. I got my undergraduate and graduate degrees there. Having the feeling of somehow being outside of the mainstream of the art world had a lot to do with my feelings about art. Seeing everything through magazines and books - I got a lot of my sense of what art looked like in terms of surface and finish.
JS: one feature that serves as a clue is the way you preserve in the copy of the faint tints or discolorations that were the results of the photoprinting or reproductive process. This distinguishes it from the original. So you're conscious of the notion of a secondary source from the start.
SL: Yes. It was the sixties. I was in college and a minimal painter and a minimal art looks even flatter in magazines. I felt the my work was becoming very mannerist and empty for me. I began to use photography as a way of introducing a representational imagery in to work.
JS: it seems significant you received your graduate degree in a photo-printmaking
SL: I was interested in the idea of multiple images and mechanical reproduction. I did a lot of commercial art for money from the time I was in college until very recently.
JS : Do you see that as an influence also?
SL: I think it had a lot to do with it . I was really interested in how they dealt with the idea of originality. If they wanted image, they just take it. It was never an issue of morality; it was always issue of utility. There was no sense that images belonged to anybody; all images were in who the public domain and as an artist, I found that very liberating.
JS: Tthere are specific methods that commercial artists used, for example, tracing.
SL: And the use of copy cameras.
JS: it occurred to me that your process of working from prints is somewhat like the custom popular in the 17th century of copying a painting to make a print. What the print artist did was to remain true to the composition and poses of the figures, but they didn't necessarily hold to the original expression on people's faces. They thought of the print as being
SLightly original. In other words, it stepped away to become something new.
SL: I think copies and prints were the main way of redistributing images at that time, before photography.
JS: The Carravagio exhibition currently at the Metropolitan Museum focus the idea of copying in another way. An original Carravagio is mountednext to a copy or to works that have been attributed to Carravagio . This official reflects the modern need for uniquess, whereas a at that time one commissioned a copy of the master because one loved the painting or because a pious patron might want an image of the John the Baptist.
SL: So much of our sense of art history is based on an copies, fakes, and forgeries. I just read The Caravaggio Conspiracy , a book about art theft and forgery written by an investigative reporter. While he's looking for a stolen Caravaggio painting, he comes across an incredible amount of forged art. There's always been a lot of it around. Some entire museum collections are forgeries.
JS: My point is that in the 16th century a copy was not necessarily frowned upon. People respected copies
SL: I think it was a different relationship to history at that time. It was more like an Oriental belief in tradition. You strove to be fully mature in your tradition. Originality was not an issue. I think that's where modernism was a real break.
Suggests: in the process of copying from the original painting to make a print, the size is reduced. This seems to have some connection to work.
SL: In most cases it is reduced from the original but maintains the size of the book plate. Maintaining a uniform format has a democratizing effect on the images that I like. The watercolors and drawings are trace the books onto 11 by 14 in. pieces of paper. The paintings are easel size on 20 by 24 in. boards.
The pictures of and they are really ghosts of ghosts: their relationship to the original images is tertiary, i.e., three or four times removed. By the time the picture becomes a book plate it's already been rephotographs several times. When I started doing this work, I want to make a picture which contradicted itself. I want to put a picture on top of the picture so there are times when both pictures disappear and other times when they're both manifest; that vibration is basically what the work's about for me-that space in the middle where there's no picture.
JS: Can you elaborate a lot originality means to you?
SL: It's not that I don't think that the word originality means anything or has no meaning, I just think it's gotten a very narrow meaning lately. What I think about in terms of my work is broadening the definitions of the word "original." I think originality as a trope. There is no such thing as an ahistorical activity ( I mean history in terms of one's personal history, too).
JS: What about the idea behind the introduction of your hand? This came about when you stopped copying photographs and began to draw "de Koonings."
SL: A 1 lot of the most sophisticated cycle analytic and feminists critiques about art and film posit the supremacy of the visual over all our other senses in a patriarchal society. I think a lot of what's alienating an impressive about our media culture is its of Larry stake aspect. It's ironic the most of this theory that is applied to art has been mainly in support of photographic work. There seems to be a denial of the rest of the body. In art, the hand becomes the metonymical symbol for the body.
JS: There is something in the work that suggests the you thoroughly enjoy this hand work. It's a visceral on occasion.
SL: Oh yes. There's no other reason to do it. For me, arts basically about pleasure. I'm not saying there's no pleasure in making or looking at photography, but there are definitely some kinds of pleasure in making and looking at painting.