#deadartistsociety | Elaine Sturtevant 3

Here's week 2 of my research of artist Elaine Sturtevant....

Robert Rauschenberg, Short Circuit (1955)

Robert Rauschenberg, Short Circuit (1955)

This piece above was submitted for an annual exhibition at the Stable Gallery. Participants in the gallery's annual shows could propose new artists for the following year's exhibition but that year the rule changed. To protest this new policy that excluded new artists, Rauschenberg invited his artist friends to produce small works of art that could be put behind the closed doors of this cabinet. Ten years later the Jasper Johns flag was stolen. Following the theft, Rauschenberg asked Sturtevant to create a reproduction as a replacement. The Sturtevant Flag is an original work of art, neither a copy nor a nostalgic replica. This piece is at the Art Institute of Chicago.

Sturtevant, Duchamp Relâche (1967)

Sturtevant, Duchamp Relâche (1967)

Elaine and Robert Rauschenberg pose as Adam and Eve replicating a photo by Man Ray of Marcel Duchamp and Bronia Perlmutter from 1924.

In 1967 Elaine Sturtevant organized a variation of the store that Claes Oldenburg had set up a few blocks from hers. Like his, she produced and offered for sale a range of sculptures and announced her store with a poster designed to mimic his but changed from The Store by Claes Oldenburg to The Store of Claes Oldenburg Sturtevant.

Elaine at the store

Elaine at the store

the show poster and Claes Oldenburg's reaction

the show poster and Claes Oldenburg's reaction

Sturtevant, Oldenburg Store Object Slip 1967

Sturtevant, Oldenburg Store Object Slip 1967

Sturtevant, Oldenburg Store Object Pie Case 1967

Sturtevant, Oldenburg Store Object Pie Case 1967

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Also in 1967, viewers were invited to a Sturtevant performance titled Picabias’ Ballet Relâche (which was based on a ballet in 1924 in which the principal dancer fell sick and so the work lived up to its advertised name, relâche, meaning a cancellation. It was instead held the following week.) And so you can probably guess what happened when the audience arrived to Elaine’s.... the doors were locked. Critics summarized it as a “demonstration of the void in the thing and the thing in the void.” 

Sturtevant, Dechiravit after Duchamp, 1967

Sturtevant, Dechiravit after Duchamp, 1967

Duchamp actually attended Sturtevant’s nonperformance Relâche and invited Elaine over for dinner to ask her if the cancellation had been intentional. When she replied that it was, he remarked, “That’s quite beautiful.”

Sturtevant, Duchamp Rotary Disc, 1969

Sturtevant, Duchamp Rotary Disc, 1969

Sturtevant, Duchamp Wanted, 1969

Sturtevant, Duchamp Wanted, 1969

Sturtevant, Stills from Study for Various Beuys Actions, 1971

Sturtevant, Stills from Study for Various Beuys Actions, 1971

Sturtevant, Stills from Study for Various Beuys Actions, 1971

Sturtevant, Stills from Study for Various Beuys Actions, 1971



The interesting thing about Elaine’s study of Beuys is that he, a German artist, avoided America to protest their involvement in Vietnam. And so when finally arrived in New York in 1974, she had already showed his work and moved on.

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After Sturtevant’s exhibition Various Studies for Beuys Actions, Objects and Films in 1974 she disappeared from the art world for 10+ years. She said she set about “writing, thinking, playing tennis, and carrying on.” She received her Master’s degree from Columbia.

Questions remain about why she stopped. There was a lot of resistance to her work. Some of the artists who were at first supportive, weren’t so happy once she began to make a career of it. In 1967 as she was leaving the set up of installation, she was attacked by a group of teens and had to be taken to the hospital. There’s speculation that she had other aggressive encounters. 

I like what Bob Nikas said: “Things happen to artists and they make certain decisions, to stop, for example, or the decisions are made for them. They don’t have a choice, or at least that’s how it seems to them at the time. If an artist’s work is a big part of his or her identity, and they stop working, in effect they bring an end to themselves. Not to be overly dramatic, but it’s a form of taking your own life, or taking your life back, a kind of self- possession. You no longer belong to others, and are no longer vulnerable to others. When you come back it’s sort of life after death.”