Elaine Sturtevant

(1924 - 2014)

About The Artist

Born in 1924 in Lakewood, Ohio, Elaine Sturtevant received her bachelor's degree in Psychology from the University of Iowa and her master's degree at the Teachers College of Columbia University. Interested in the systems that drive modern art production, Sturtevant began "repeating" other artist's seminal works in 1964. One of the most important qualifications of this practice was its defiance of mere copying. Instead, through close reading of her sources, Sturtevant created ‘works of works' to examine the cultural function and "stylistic branding" of the originals themselves, calling into question the value of the art object. Working in what some describe as a ‘parafictional' genre, Sturtevant's paintings, films, photographs, performances, and sculptures appear to perform one function on their surfaces, but in actuality operate in a very different capacity. This style "lays conceptual traps" for the viewer. In Sturtevant's case, her works momentarily masquerade as the originals. Upon closer inspection however, the intentional differences between her ‘repetitions' and their forebearers "jolt" the viewer to question their conceptions of identity and originality. By referencing and thus reinforcing the familiar signifiers of prominent artists, such as Jasper Johns' flags and Andy Warhol's Marilyns, Sturtevant sought to complicate her viewers' automatic response to the image.

In 1965, at the Bianchini Gallery in New York, Sturtevant was featured in her first solo exhibition. Among her other ‘repetitions,' Sturtevant debuted Warhol Flowers (1965), shortly after Warhol's originals had been revealed. For many, Sturtevant's repetitions represented a "dangerous" attack on the mechanisms that affirmed artistic authority and drove the art market. As a result, many artists, collectors, and institutions refused to associate with her. Emulating not only their works, but their lifestyles as well, Sturtevant followed in the footsteps of other artists by escaping to Paris in 1974 for a near decade-long hiatus from the art world. Reappearing on the scene in 1986, her exhibition at White Columns in New York received a much warmer reception than her previous showings. As the new millennium approached, Sturtevant became increasingly interested in film and video, as internet-based media demonstrated an apex of the artist's preoccupation with the over-saturation of visual culture.

During her lifetime, Sturtevant rejected outside attempts to contextualize her repetition work, dispelling gendered readings of her process, as well as associations with both Pop and Appropriation art. It has been observed, however, that without Sturtevant's deeply theoretical practice, Appropriation art would have never seized a valid position in the American art dialogue. By redefining originality, artistic identity, and the ideological location of the art object, Sturtevant inaugurated "a decisive moment" in the history of art. While historically vilified by the art world, Sturtevant has become the subject of great critical affection over the past decade. At the Venice Biennale in 2011, the artist received a Golden Lion for lifetime achievement and in 2015, MoMA hosted the first American retrospective of Sturtevant's five decade-long career. Together with the exhibition's subsequent presentation at MOCA in Los Angeles, this was the only institutional showcase of her work in the United States since her breakout show at the Everson Museum of Art in 1973. Other recent high-profile exhibitions of Sturtevant's work were held at the Museum für Moderne Kunst in Frankfurt in 2004, the Moderna Museet in Stockholm in 2012 and the Serpentine Gallery in London in 2013.

Fox, Margalit. "Elaine Sturtevant, Artist and Borrower, Dies at 89." The New York Times, 18 May 2014, p. 8.

Lee, Patricia. Sturtevant, Warhol Marilyn. Afterall Books, 2016.