May 11, 2014

Sturtevant - RIP

The artist Sturtevant passed away this week - an event that was remarkably under-reported in the art world news despite her huge contribution to the contemporary scene.  Often difficult, always passionate and occasionally extremely funny, Sturtevant was an artist ahead of her time and paved the way for today's generation of artists and students.

If you are not familiar with the work of Sturtevant you have nothing to be ashamed of.  Her genre can be described as "appropriationist" a term she despised, almost as much as being referred to as a "woman" artist.  Basically, she studied other artist's works and recreated them herself, often so well that they were indistinguishable from the original.  This was not an effort to deceive or to create a forgery, it was a comment on the concepts of originality, reality and authenticity.

Since the 1960s, Sturtevant's copies of masterpieces by Marcel Duchamp, Andy Warhol, Frank Stella and Claes Oldenberg, among others, were meticulous to the point where when a Jasper Johns "Flag" painting was once stolen from an exhibition the artist himself turned to Sturtevant for a replacement.  In the 1980s, she created more sculptural installments by the likes of Anselm Kiefer and Félix Gonzáles-Torres, and most recently concentrated on video presentations.  Sturtevant was a superb technician and a very talented artist, but it was her ideas and intellect that made her art, art.

I had the privilege of meeting Elaine Sturtevant around 2000 when my husband and I visited her studio in Paris with the idea of acquiring some of her work.  Despite her reputation for gruffness and a low tolerance for "dumb questions", we had a great time and it became routine to visit each other when in Paris or New York.  Whenever possible we attended her gallery openings and museum exhibitions and, even knowing her reluctance to scrawl her signature, I would implore her to autograph the catalogue or poster which she did without a moment's hesitation.

When Sturtevant's name comes up in conversations with colleagues it is usually greeted with a roll of the eyes and a crack about how abrasive she could be.  Yes, I had certainly seen this side of her but I always viewed it as a self-protection mechanism and it had never been directed toward me.  I viewed her simply as Elaine, a brilliant and marvelous artist and woman and someone I will deeply miss.  Rest in Peace, the battle is won.

Sturtevant, 1930? (Lakewood, Ohio) - 2014 (Paris, France)
Photo courtesy Galerie Thaddeus Ropac, Paris

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