Serpentine Gallery, London
28 June – 26 August 2013
by KATE TIERNAN
Owls crop up throughout this latest show, and it is hard not to think that, rather like Daido Moriyama’s Stray Dog (1971), the wise bird symbolises a self-portrait of Sturtevant, who is now in her 80s. An amusing, beady-eyed owl wallpaper is printed with the word iStock. Titling and text play a crucial role in her work; transparency of authorship is one of necessity rather than generosity. Perhaps this is predictable given her consistent deflections when any personal scrutiny is involved.
Themes of looping and endless repetition are central to her work: examining the rapid growth over the past four decades of replication, revival, recycling and appropriation; asking us to unpick, question and reassess the machinery of this cultural phenomenon.
In a remake of the late Félix González-Torres's Untitled (America) (1994), lights cascade from the Serpentine's circular skylight. The original was exhibited at the Serpentine in 2000 for the Felix Gonzalez-Torres exhibition. Sturtevant wants us to think about the meaning art carries in today’s climate. How do artists mediate unwanted collaborations and appropriations of their work? Can we function with an open network/flow of references and still protect the profession of art, and how could subjectivity help?
The new works are different, not “copies” or homages. “The work is done predominantly from memory, using the same techniques, making the same errors,” says Sturtevant. In a society saturated with images, she is posing the questions inherited from Warhol’s famous Marilyn Diptych (1962), which she reworked as Warhol Diptych, 1973/2004. Other reworks includeDuchamp Fresh Window (1992), Beuys Fat Chair (1974) and Lichtenstein Happy Tears (1966-67). These iconic works beckon us to reconsider our position through this process of borrowed authorship; how does meaning change when a work is appropriated; does it have more or less influence?
Multi-screen videos show Elastic Tango (2011), grotesque at first sight, but playfully absurd. It borrows the violently provocative language of artist Paul McCarthy, most overtly in the way it flicks between documentary, commercials and cartoons: a running dog, explosions, Betty Boop, the American Flag, when suddenly the screen becomes brutally censored as it is dissected into thirds.
Rock & Rap Simulacra Act 3 (2013), another video installation, borrows its content from BBC wildlife and nature documentaries with playfully edited sequences: frog, diver, butterfly, runner, running water, gymnast, frog, owl. In the central gallery, Dillinger Running Series(2000) references Beuys’s 1974 film in which he dressed as the American mobster John Dillinger. The projector mounted on a turntable throws the walking image on to the walls, endlessly encircling the viewer; Sturtevant dressed as Beuys, dressed as Dillinger, a copy of a copy.
In the Serpentine’s East wing, in Finite Infinite 2010, another looped projection with an invisible turntable, a dog runs across the wall, frantic to escape – only to return.Looking outside through the small circular holes cut into the window blinds, one can imagine glimpsing the passing dog before it reappears as a projection on the gallery wall.
The questions Sturtevant raises are valid, worthy of interrogation. Yet the exhibition paints a rather bleak, pessimistic picture: the assumption that we are all treading the same hamster wheel of life, ceaselessly consuming without pausing to question. Perhaps we are disappointed with such overt appropriation and more at ease with it slipping past in disguise.
Joseph Beuys Collection, Museum Schloss Moyland
Driving through the landscape of the north Rhine on the Dutch-German border is an almost mystical experience. Here, extensive glacial moraines have been washed down over millennia from the Alps, hundreds of miles distant, to create a topography of flat, worn land interspersed by features such as the Reichswald, a vast alluvial ridge, impressive because of its sudden punctuation of the great north Eurasian plain. Joseph Beuys was born into this landscape, culture and history, and its influences were profound, enduring throughout his life.
Warhol in History
The exhibition at the National Galleries of Scotland in Edinburgh (at the Mound) commemorating the 20th anniversary of Warhol's death has dramatically set to rights the prevalent theory of the 1990s that by the time he died Warhol's best work was long back in time, that he was by then a spent force.
Warhol Screen Tests
Undoubtedly, Warhol’s most successful essays in the film medium, ‘Screen Tests’, represent an elegiac exposure of human vulnerability, albeit camped by Edie Sedgwick, and Dennis Hopper. Lou Reed seems genuinely flummoxed however, a victim if ever, of being famous for five minutes
Vivienne Westwood's re-entry into the multi-media arena is welcome as much as it is stimulating. Typically, she was quoted as saying, at the Guardian Hay festival 'In visual art, I don't believe that anything is happening at the moment.' Her definition of 'culture' was typically succinct: 'Culture is not peripheral and local, it's what is representative of human nature, and universal, and timeless.'
Joseph Beuys Lives
At this time, it is salutary to look back again at the volumes of Studio International and to be reminded of the loss of this artist. Reproduced here is the cover of the March 1986 issue (vol 199, no. 1012), featuring a photograph by Nigel Maudsley. Richard Demarco's current article, a review/reminiscence of Beuys, can also be found on our home page. From his obituary, we re-quote the memory of his first encounter with Beuys: