18

– Summer 2008

Sturtevant: On Art and Its Time

Belinda Bowring

Sturtevant, Gonzalez-Torres Untitled (Go-GO Dancing Platform), 1995, wood, light-bulbs, acrylic paint, wire and go-go dancer in silver lame bikini and Walkman, 54.5x183x183cm. Courtesy of the artist.

Sturtevant, Gonzalez-Torres Untitled (Go-GO Dancing Platform), 1995, wood, light-bulbs, acrylic paint, wire and go-go dancer in silver lame bikini and Walkman, 54.5x183x183cm. Courtesy of the artist.

Comebacks are the pastime of fading starlets, nipped, tucked, puffed to perfection and wheeled out in front of a no-longer adoring public in order to win them over once more. They are notoriously hard to pull off, and the cost of failing to invest the old and overly familiar with a lost novelty is high. For that reason, a comeback is usually a one-off, and since success rules out the need for repeat performances, it is not the most likely of activities in which to specialise, excel or even make the means of a career. However, the notion of a comeback can be used to think through Sturtevant's ongoing practice of carefully remaking iconic artworks by an all-male line-up of art stars, including Marcel Duchamp, Jasper Johns, Robert Rauschenberg, Frank Stella and Andy Warhol, which she began in the 1960s - often before these figures gained broader recognition.1 Taking her 1986 'comeback' exhibition as my point of departure, I will extend the logic of this show so that the tactic of the comeback can be tracked throughout her career, with the aim of demonstrating that a practice that depends on the pre-existing is not necessarily a retrospective exercise but, as in Sturtevant's case, can also be an action oriented to the future

Sturtevant's famous comeback took place in 1986 at White Columns, New York - her first solo show since her 1974 exhibition at Onnasch Gallery (also in New York) of remakes of works by Joseph Beuys, after which she ceased producing and exhibiting art. In what has become an undeniable allusion to Marcel Duchamp's exchange of art for chess, she has

Footnotes
  1. Many critics have sought to distinguish the Sturtevant versions from the original source of inspiration by describing how her copies are not exactly the same as their models. See, for example, Donald Kuspit, 'Repeating the Unrepeatable: Elaine Sturtevant's Absolution of Art', in Elaine Sturtevant (exh. cat.), Chicago: Rhona Hoffman Gallery, 1990, pp.2-6.

  2. 'Sturtevant talks to Bruce Hainley', Artforum, March 2003, pp.246-47.

  3. Although some artists, such as Andy Warhol, were vaguely supportive, hostility increased towards her work, particularly after the remake of Claes Oldenburg's Store (1961-62) in April 1967, a few streets away from his original outlet. The work was met with fierce animosity from Oldenburg himself, who had previously supported her practice. See Bruce Hainley, 'Erase and Rewind', frieze, June-August 2000, pp.82-87.

  4. Quote from the press release published to accompany the exhibition at White Columns, New York, 1986.

  5. See Antony Hudek, Invisible Painting: Pictorial Mimesis at Work, New York 1976-1986 (unpublished doctoral thesis), London: Courtauld Institute of Art, 2005, p.144.

  6. 'Sturtevant talks to Bruce Hainley', op. cit., p.246.

  7. Jean Baudrillard, 'History: A Retro Scenario', Simulacra and Simulation, Ann Arbor: University of Michigan Press, 1994, p.44.

  8. Dan Cameron, 'A Salon History of Appropriation with Leo Castelli and Elaine Sturtevant', Flash Art, Nov-Dec 1988, pp.76-77.

  9. Quoted in Bernard Blistène, 'Label Elaine', in Udo Kittelmann and Mario Kramer (ed.), Sturtevant: The Brutal Truth, Frankfurt a.M. and Ostfildern-Ruit: Museum für Moderne Kunst and Hatje Cantz Verlag, 2004, p.37.

  10. Sturtevant produced three Warhol Gold Marilyns in 1973. Two of them are monochrome round canvases (cat. numbers 176 and 184). The one discussed here is a portrait-shaped canvas with Marilyn's portrait at the centre in blue, pink and yellow, with a gold background (cat. number 188). See Lena Maculan (ed.), Sturtevant: Catalogue Raisonné 1964-2004, Frankfurt a.M. and Ostfildern-Ruit: Museum für Moderne Kunst and Hatje Cantz Verlag, 2004, pp.87, 89 and 90.

  11. Quoted in B. Blistène, 'Label Elaine', op. cit., p.37.

  12. Sturtevant: Drawings 1988-1965, New York: Bess Cutler Gallery, 1988.

  13. Sturtevant speaking on the panel discussion 'Custodians of Culture - The Museum: Institutions of Market or Measure?', Frieze Art Fair, London, 12 October 2007.

  14. Gilles Deleuze, Difference and Repetition (trans. Paul Patton), London and New York: Continuum, 2004, p.91.

  15. Friedrich Nietzsche, Beyond Good and Evil: Prelude to a Philosophy of the Future (trans. Helen Zimmern), New York: Dover Publications, 1997, p.24.

  16. Gilles Deleuze and Félix Guattari, A Thousand Plateaus: Capitalism and Schizophrenia (trans. Brian Massumi), London and New York: Continuum, 2003, p.353.