I'm finding Elaine Sturtevant fascinating. Her work has some similarities to my #deadartistsociety project and that's been fun to see. It's also helping me clarify what I'm doing and why (and it's not always the same as Elaine.) Here's week 2 of research...
In the late 1950’s Sturtevant began slicing open tubes of paint, turning them inside out, and cutting them into flattened rough shapes in which she would collage onto the canvas.
“Even early on her work was about literally cutting open the tools of art-making. It was about what we value as a society and how art and aesthetic production mirrors that. She thought that our society was inherently violent. There is the sense of almost cautionary anxiety about what society really values and why. ... She hated the movie. [Kill Bill] She found it completely gratuitously violent.” (quoted from Sturtevant: Double Trouble.)
One of my favorite parts of this #deadartistsociety project is looking at an artist’s early work and getting an idea of where they started and how they got to the pieces that are well known. We don’t really get to do that with Sturtevant. Just as she was careful about not revealing much about her background, she was also careful about her old work—destroying school work and early pieces.
These early paintings with the cut up paint tubes are the only clue, two of those were owned by Jasper Johns and one by her good friend Robert Rauschenberg—it’s in the top right of this photo of Rauschenberg in his NY studio in 1965.
It’s possible that two of Rauschenberg’s pieces planted the seed to Elaine’s life work. The first is Erased de Kooning, an almost blank piece of paper created in 1953 by erasing a drawing from Willem de Kooning. And the other is Factum I and Factum II, two nearly identical canvases he made in 1957.
In 1964, by memorization only, Elaine Sturtevant began to manually reproduce paintings and objects created by her contemporaries. In 1965 she had her first solo show at Bianchini Gallery in NYC. She lined the walls with Warhol Flowers from floor to ceiling. She installed a sculpture of a man resembling a George Segal piece. The figure stood beside a garment rack with works that look like Jasper Johns’ Claes Oldenburg’s, Frank Stella’s, Roy Lichtenstein’s, etc. Except all were made by Sturtevant. Reviews of the show were mixed, the NY Times saying “must be the first artist in history to have held a one-man show that included everybody but herself.”
Reviews of the show were mixed, the NY Times saying “must be the first artist in history to have held a one-man show that included everybody but herself.”
Warhol had first shown these flowers the year before. He created the screenprint from a photograph of hibiscus blooms by Patricia Caulfield published in the June 1964 issue of Modern Photography. Warhol later loaned the screen to Sturtevant and she made many versions of it.
All Elaine’s work raises questions about originality and authenticity but I think especially this one. She borrowed Andy’s screen while he borrowed the image from a magazine. Artists had mixed reactions to Elaine’s work but Warhol when asked about his artistic methods was quoted as saying, “I don’t know. Ask Elaine.”
In Elaine’s Johns piece she leaves behind the headlines, the market is up... it’s the middle of the Vietnam war. She drew the numbers in order, he used a stencil and said he took “pains not to do them in order.” She used white encaustic to match his.
Her versions of artists’ work use the whole, not copying a single piece. She uses their materials, their style, but sends her own message. “War is not about dead bodies but about money.”
In 1966 Sturtevant had her second solo show at a Paris gallery, which was actually closed during the duration of her show. It was titled America, America and viewers would have to peer through locked glass doors where they would have seen an Oldenburg hamburger, another George Segal figure, and several paintings like a Lichtenstein and a Rosenquist.
The weird thing about making something inspired by Elaine is that I'm really making something inspired by other artists (which is pretty much what I've been doing all year.)
The other day had a friend come over to take some photos. I knew I wanted some headshots but I hate having my photo taken. I had saved these photos below as inspiration. I didn't study them too closely or try to exactly recreate one. I wanted to use the general idea of them and make something of my own.
I love how it turned out. To me, Louise's covered face says frustration while mine is more of a mask or hiding. In Alice's photo above she is mimicking death and so I wasn't really going for that message. I think Georgia looks so calm and comfortable in these photos with her eyes closed, like she's meditating. For me to get my photo taken with my eyes closed it felt very vulnerable.
When Brenna showed me the back of the camera with these photos, I had the idea to make a gif of the two poses. (I was surprised at how easy it is to make a gif, there may be more!) And I feel like it perfectly describes this #deadartistsociety project from hiding behind other artists to being vulnerable with my art and writing, a constant back and forth.