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Sherrie Levine

American Photographer, Painter, Sculptor, and Conceptual Artist

Movements and Styles: Conceptual Art, The Pictures Generation, Modern Photography, Appropriation Art, Feminist Art, Institutional Critique

Born: April 17, 1964 - Hazelton, Pennsylvania

Sherrie Levine Timeline

Quotes

"My work has always been very self-consciously about fetishism."
Sherrie Levine
"I was tired of no one looking at the work, looking inside the frame," "what I always made is pictures - to be looked at."
Sherrie Levine
"Never aspired to belong to a school of appropriators. 'Appropriation' is a label that makes me cringe because it's come to signify a polemic: as an artist I don't like to think of myself as a polemicist."
Sherrie Levine
"I wanted to make pictures that contradicted themselves. I wanted to put one picture on top of another so that there were times when both pictures disappear and other times when they were both manifest. That vibration is basically what the work was about for me- that space in the middle where there is no picture, rather an emptiness, an oblivion."
Sherrie Levine
"Man has placed his token on every stone. Every word, every image, is leased and mortgaged. We know that a picture is but a space in which a variety of images, none of them original, blend and clash. A picture is a tissue of quotations drawn from the innumerable centers of culture..."
Sherrie Levine
"I have become interested in issues of authenticity, identity, and property - that is to say, what do we own?"
Sherrie Levine
"I try to make art which celebrates doubt and uncertainty. Which provokes answers but doesn't give them. Which withholds absolute meaning by incorporating parasite meanings. Which suspends meaning while perpetually dispatching you toward interpretation, urging you beyond dogmatism, beyond doctrine, beyond ideology, beyond authority."
Sherrie Levine
"Originality was always something I was thinking about, but there's also the idea of ownership and property...It's not that I'm trying to deny that people own things. That isn't even the point. The point is that people want to own things, which is more interesting to me. What does it mean to own something, and stranger still, what does it mean to own an image?"
Sherrie Levine

"It is something that artists do all the time unconsciously, working in the style of someone they consider a great master. I just wanted to make that relationship literal."

Synopsis

Sherrie Levine's methods of appropriating and citing the works of important 20th century male artists established her as a consequential artist of postmodernism, ushered in during the late 1970s. Levine critiques the core tenets of Modernism, calling into question the role of the romantic, artist-genius. Along with artists such as Cindy Sherman and Richard Prince, she questions how images are culturally constructed and the effects of their dissemination in a media-saturated age. Levine's work introduces perceptual questions about what exactly one is looking at and asks viewers to consider the reasons why we inherently trust and often fetishize values in art such as authenticity and originality. While Levine sees her work as more of a collaboration with previous artists, in copying and replicating the work of male artists Levine also levels a feminist critique against the ingrained patriarchy of art history and society at large.

Key Ideas

Levine's work, in which she creates almost indistinguishable copies of others' work, emphasizes that authorship is defined by use rather than individual creation and that nothing is inherently or singularly unique. In this way, she echoes the ideas of French theorists such as Roland Barthes who declared the "death of the author" and whose texts became seminal for postmodern theory.
Levine's use of appropriation - the deliberate borrowing and copying, with little or no alteration, of others' images - has a long history in the 20th century, going back to Pablo Picasso's cubist collages. Artists such as Marcel Duchamp, Salvador Dalí, and Robert Rauschenberg appropriated images and objects to incorporate into their work, but Levine and others of her generation took appropriation to a new level, to the point of infringing on intellectual property rights and arguably - plagiarism.
Levine's copies and near-copies demand that we consider the relation between repetition and difference and how we look at pieces of art. Levine engages in a deep questioning of how images can be simultaneously familiar yet unfamiliar, original yet facsimiles, recognizable yet ambiguous, present yet absent. Ultimately, her work asks many questions but supplies few definitive answers.
Levine has said that her work is self-consciously about fetishism. The fetish object is an ordinary object onto which we project our desires, and in turn, the object comes to have a power over us. In psychoanalytic terms, this object stands in for something else and has sexual implications. In Marxist terms, the commodity becomes a fetish when symbolic value is assigned a monetary value, and the commodity is seen as "a magical source of wealth and value," according to historian William Paetz. Levine engages both discourses by making work that is based on the perceived aura of a work of art and the viewer's own desires.

Most Important Art

Sherrie Levine Famous Art

President Collage: 1 (1979)

In President Collage: 1 we see the familiar silhouette of George Washington that graces the U.S. quarter meticulously cut from a magazine fashion spread featuring a glamorous looking female model. Usually a collage consists of various materials - photographs or pieces of paper - arranged in a composition on a support, but here while there is only one material, the mass-produced fashion ad, there are two images due to the way Levine cut up the magazine page. Art historian Howard Singerman writes that for Levine, collage suggests "an edge between two things that needed to be acknowledged and read."

Levine's series of President collages uses fashion models and stock images of women cropped into the profiles of Washington, Abraham Lincoln, and John F. Kennedy, all of which are found on U.S. currency. With these jarring juxtapositions, Levine draws the viewer's attention to the commodification of female sexuality to sell things and lifestyles as well as patriarchal constraints that expect women to appear and behave in traditional ways. The model represents an idealized female type designed for the male gaze. Presenting the image within the constraints of a president's silhouette not only underscores the commodification of women but also the underlying patriarchic structure that fosters the male gaze. The President Collage series represents one of Levine's first forays into the art of appropriation. She has taken found or readymade images and represented them in a way that transforms their original connotations.
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Sherrie Levine Artworks in Focus:

Biography

Early Life and Education

Sherrie Levine was born in Hazelton, Pennsylvania, a coal-mining town, in 1947. She subsequently grew up in a suburb outside of Saint Louis, Missouri, where she frequented the Saint Louis Art Museum with her mother, who loved to paint. Levine recalls that while she frequented the museum, much of her knowledge of art came from seeing reproductions in books and magazines. She attended the University of Wisconsin, Madison, receiving her BA in 1969 and her MFA four years later. During college, Levine created Minimalist grid drawings that were met with acclaim from her professors but closely resembled contemporaneous works by Brice Marden. Confronted with this similarity and the feeling that these drawings were an unsuccessful attempt at "reinventing the wheel," Levine turned to photography as a means to break through the impasse. Photography would later become the means by which Levine would return to the very problem of originality that led her to the medium in the first place. Her photographic reproductions of other art works trafficked more straightforwardly and brazenly with the question of copying and originality in art, thus securing her place as a key figure of postmodernism. Levine actively eschews any mythologizing of the artist and so avoids discussing her personal life and relations for the record.

Early Period

During and after college, Levine worked various jobs in commercial art to earn money, and in 1973 Levine moved to Berkeley, California, where she taught art at various venues throughout the Bay Area. After graduate school, she made a short film and other conceptual art pieces before turning to collage and photography exclusively. Needing a change, she moved to New York City in 1975, lived on unemployment benefits, and worked in relative isolation until she met the painter David Salle, who subsequently introduced her to his friends from CalArts, including Jack Goldstein

In 1977, she had her first solo show at 3 Mercer Street at the invitation of Stephen Eins. Here, Levine exhibited 75 children's dress shoes she had found at a thrift store in California and carted with her to New York. Perhaps inspired by the fact that her father was a shoe salesman, Levine simply displayed the found objects on a checkered quilt and advertised them, "2 shoes for $2," turning them into fetish objects. Later that year, curator Douglas Crimp, who lived near the artists David Salle, Cindy Sherman, and Robert Longo, included Levine in his seminal exhibition entitled "Pictures," alongside the work of Jack Goldstein, Robert Longo, Philip Smith, and Troy Brauntuch. The legendary exhibition explored these artists relationship to representation "not in the familiar guise of realism, which seeks to resemble a prior existence," but as a questioning of how meaning is made through representation. It also provided the nom de guerre for a generation of artists including Levine, Richard Prince and Cindy Sherman - dubbed The Pictures Generation. Crimp selected one of Levine's early series, entitled Sons and Lovers (1976-77), for the exhibition. The work presented varying configurations of the silhouette profiles of five former U.S. presidents including Washington, Lincoln and Kennedy. Levine returned to the motif of presidential profiles in 1979, this time utilizing images excerpted fashion magazines, for the series Presidential Collages.

Mature Period

According to Douglas Eklund from the Department of Photographs at the Metropolitan Museum of Art, "Sherrie Levine shot over the shoulders of photography's founding fathers ... in order to create something akin to musical overtones - a buzzing in the space between their 'original' and her 'copy' that effaced the distance between objective document and subjective desire." This indeterminacy in Levine's work is controversial because it closely resembles plagiarism, but also serves a different, perhaps more important function: to collapse the authority and status given to the notion of originality, and its presumed conflation with artistic value.

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Sherrie Levine Biography Continues

Beginning in the late 1970s, Levine further pushed her strategies of appropriation by re-shooting iconic works by celebrated (and exclusively male) photographers, including Eliot Porter, Walker Evans, and Edward Weston, and in the early 1980s she also exhibited color reproductions of paintings by Claude Monet, Fernand Leger and Vincent van Gogh, among others, which she claimed as her own. In 1983, Levine also began to painstakingly recreate printed reproductions of works by modernist masters such as Joan Miró, Piet Mondrian, and Edgar Degas in a variety of media, including ink, watercolor and photolithography.

Arguably her most well-known series of photographs, After Walker Evans, in which she presented photographic reproductions of the photographs, was exhibited at Metro Pictures Gallery in 1982. The Estate of Walker Evans interpreted the series as copyright infringement, threatened a lawsuit, and then bought all of the photographs to limit their distribution. In 1994, the estate gifted them to the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York. Subsequently, Levine largely avoided copyrighted images.

Throughout the 1990s, Levine created abstract paintings loaded with art historical references as well as sculptural works which reproduced iconic artworks and modernist motifs, such as the ever-present grid. She also made a series of prints, called the Meltdown Series, after woodcuts by Max Ernst, Marcel Duchamp, Ernst Ludwig Kirchner, Piet Mondrian, and Claude Monet during this period. To create the works, Levine photographed a reproduction of each artwork, which was then converted into twelve pixels using a computer program. The resulting image consists of a color grid loosely derived from the palette of the original work. Levine also created a number of sculptures during the 1990s, including a bronze rendition of Duchamp's famous urinal and cast aluminum tricycle that recalls one of William Eggleston's most celebrated photographs.

Current Work

Levine's recent work has included cast bronze sculptures of taxidermied animals, glass skulls, and African masks. While these subjects appear to have few commonalities, they reference important leitmotifs in the art historical canon. An antelope skull cast in bronze cites Georgia O'Keeffe, and a traditional Lega mask from Cameroon rendered in bronze offers vastly different connotations than the rough-hewn and pockmarked wood of its referent, an object with myriad exemplars and deep context in Euro-American modern art from Picasso to Modigliani.


Legacy

Sherrie Levine, along with Richard Prince, Robert Longo, Cindy Sherman and a small cadre of other artists came to define "The Pictures Generation." Their collective efforts wrestled with age-old questions surrounding authorship, citation, and originality in art. Her acts of artistic appropriation drastically renegotiated what was permissible both creatively and legally in an unprecedented way.

Levine's interests are especially focused on the intersection of gender politics and artistic representation, exploring the biases inherent to art history and the art market that historically favors white, heteronormative males from Western countries. Consequently, her work has inspired newer generations of artists who are concerned both with issues of authorship and identity politics. Artists who have been marginalized to some extent because of their gender, sexual orientation or ethnicity have found inspiration in Levine's reclamation of objects from the power structures to which they belonged.

Her capacity to radically alter the "aura" of an object by placing it in a different context resonates in the work of Felix Gonzalez-Torres, who similarly employed found objects in his practice. Levine's cynicism surrounding the business machinations of the art world appears very much alive in Darren Bader's work. Alex Da Corte's Die Hexe exhibition at the Manhattan gallery Luxembourg & Dayan featured all white copies or "ghost replicas" of other artist's work, including Haim Steinbach, Robert Gober, and Bjarne Melgaard.

Influences and Connections

Influences on artist

Artists, Friends, Movements

Influenced by artist

Artists, Friends, Movements

Sherrie Levine
Interactive chart with Sherrie Levine's main influences, and the people and ideas that the artist influenced in turn.
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View Influences Chart

Artists

Constantin BrancusiConstantin Brancusi
Marcel DuchampMarcel Duchamp
Man RayMan Ray
Donald JuddDonald Judd

Friends

Movements

Conceptual ArtConceptual Art
Pop ArtPop Art
SurrealismSurrealism
Modern PhotographyModern Photography
Feminist ArtFeminist Art
Sherrie Levine
Sherrie Levine
Years Worked: 1973 - Current

Artists

Darren BaderDarren Bader
Louis Eisner
Alex da Corte
Felix Gonzalez-TorresFelix Gonzalez-Torres

Friends

David SalleDavid Salle
Robert LongoRobert Longo
Robert GoberRobert Gober
Louise LawlerLouise Lawler
Douglas CrimpDouglas Crimp

Movements

Conceptual ArtConceptual Art
The Pictures GenerationThe Pictures Generation
Appropriation ArtAppropriation Art
Feminist ArtFeminist Art
Institutional CritiqueInstitutional Critique

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Useful Resources on Sherrie Levine

Books

Websites

Articles

Videos

The books and articles below constitute a bibliography of the sources used in the writing of this page. These also suggest some accessible resources for further research, especially ones that can be found and purchased via the internet.
Sherrie Levine: African Masks After Walker Evans

By Kay Heymer

Sherrie Levine: Mayhem (2012)

By Johanna Burton

Art History: After Sherrie Levine (2011)

By Howard Singerman

Sherrie Levine: Fountain 4 May to 25 May 1991

By Bruce Ferguson

How to Explain Sherrie Levine to Your Grandmother

By Alex Freedman
Art21
15 April 2011

Sherrie Levine Moves to David Zwirner

By Andrew R. Chow
New York Times
12 June 2015

Looking with Levar, Levar Burton on Fountain (Buddha)

Broad Museum
15 November 2015

Untitled (After Edward Weston)

Smart History
28 October 2012

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