Sturtevant (American, 1924–2014) has been “repeating” the works of her contemporaries since 1964, using some of the most iconic artworks of her generation as a source and catalyst for the exploration of originality, authorship, and the interior structures of art and image culture. Beginning with her versions of works by Jasper Johns and Andy Warhol, Sturtevant initially turned the visual logic of Pop art back on itself, probing uncomfortably at the workings of art history in real time. Yet her chameleon-like embrace of other artists’ art has also resulted in her being largely overlooked in the history of postwar American art. As a woman making versions of the work of better-known male artists, she has passed almost unnoticed through the hierarchies of mid-century modernism and postmodernism, at once absent from these histories while nevertheless articulating their structures.
Though her work of the 1960s and 1970s may appear to be simply mimetic exercises in proto-appropriation, Sturtevant is better understood as an artist who adopts style as her medium and takes the art of her time as a loose “score” to be enacted. Far more than copies, her versions of Johns’s flags, Warhol’s flowers, and Joseph Beuys’s fat chairs are studies in the action of art that expose aspects of its making, circulation, and canonization. Working primarily in video since 2000, the artist remains deeply engaged with the politics of image production and reception, using stock footage from Hollywood films, television, and advertising to point to the exhaustion built into much of postwar cultural production.
The exhibition Sturtevant: Double Trouble, from November 9, 2014, to February 22, 2015, at MoMA, New York, is the first comprehensive survey in America of Sturtevant’s 50-year career, and the only institutional presentation of her work organized in the United States since her solo show at the Everson Museum of Art in 1973. Rather than taking the form of a traditional retrospective, the exhibition offers a historical overview of her work from a contemporary vantage point, interspersing more recent video pieces among key artworks from all periods of her career.