Sherrie Levine's little watercolors may look like copies of art book reproductions but they are position papers as well. Her work is a manifestation of a postmodern attitude holding--among other things--that the world is so full of images that creating new ones is either ridiculous or impossible and that it's more productive to mine existing art and examine our relationships to it. Believers in this line of reasoning busy themselves with such activities as photographing other photographs, "quoting" other artists' images or taking an encyclopedic approach to art history.
Levine's recent art--seen here in 35 lovely watercolors done "after" Miro, Gris, Matisse, Dove, Mondrian and Leger--is more satisfying than that of many of her colleagues because she presents visual delectation, removed from the real thing by size and medium. Still, beyond her admirable technique and her choices of appealing images, the only reason to linger with these watercolors is that they are in a gallery. Context converts the art into a philosophical, if not political, statement.
The most interesting aspect of this essentially conceptual work is that it overlays art-about-art with art-about-life. Levine forces you to face your feelings about the sanctity of originality in Western culture as you observe the neutralizing forces of art based on reproductions. Finally, though, it's difficult to see her work as anything other than a pretty way to arrive at a dead end. And this work suffers from certain pretensions. It's one thing to say that the central myth of the avant-garde is dead and, thus, to refute the ability of art to make a difference. It's quite another to pretend that uncertainty about meanings in recycled art adds anything to the thread of profound despair that has woven through art for several decades. (Richard Kuhlenschmidt Gallery, 9000 Melrose Ave., to March 30.)