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THE ART GALLERIES

La Cienega Area

October 10, 1986|COLIN GARDNER

Sherrie Levine attracted critical attention in 1981 as a hard-line appropriator, rephotographing nudes by Edward Weston to create works that were indistinguishable from the originals. It was this very questioning, and by extension denial, of originality that aligned Levine firmly with much recent theory that challenges not only the rhetoric of representation, but also the innate validity of the artwork in an image-saturated economy.

Since then, Levine has slowly but surely begun to restore originality into her work, beginning with 1983's watercolor repaintings of modern masters from magazine reproductions, and culminating in her most recent abstractions. Far from abnegating pleasure, desire and the transcendent properties of the artwork, Levine now seems to be reveling in them, focusing less on the mechanics of visual language than on the resonant combination of object and poetry that this vocabulary makes possible.

This sounds like a revisionist return to the "spiritual" tenets of modernism, and it is tempting to place Levine's new work within this alarmingly retrogressive continuum. Thus, her checkerboard abstracts seem to recall the retinal experiments of '60s Op, while a series of plain plywood works with painted oval knots evokes the chance techniques of surrealism, the biomorphic shapes of Arp and the ready-made aesthetic of Duchamp.

On closer examination, however, what seems like Post-Modernist kitsch actually translates as a viable political dialectic. Levine vies originality against the simulation of dead styles on the one hand, and undercuts the male-dominated art pantheon with an oblique feminism on the other. She makes little attempt to hide the mannerist process of these works, eschewing the usual slick execution and hard edges of the grids and automatic gesture of the knots, so that we are forced into a reflexive reading of both the work and its context. By appropriating and laying bare the art establishment's outward codes, Levine is able to insert herself into the system as a critical interloper. She is inside and outside the deceit, originator and copier. That this is a strategy ultimately dictated by compromise may be Levine's whole point. (Daniel Weinberg, 619 N. Almont Drive, to Nov. 1.)

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