April 19–May 26, 2018
6 rue St-Georges
Hours: Tuesday–Saturday 11am–6pm
T +32 2 639 67 30
Xavier Hufkens is pleased to present its inaugural exhibition with the influential American artist Sherrie Levine. As one of the artists who are most often cited in relation to appropriation art, it has to be recognized this category is too narrow to contain all that Levine’s work achieves. The more it is looked at, the more depth and complexity her practice yields.
Sherrie Levine is adept at making bodies of work that are both precise and confounding. Her reiterations of artefacts obtain their own aura — through a poised selection, of source artefacts, material, execution, and a stilled dramaturgy of sequence and presentation. These aspects still do not explain the mystique Levine’s work propagates: the magic seems to lie in the way the works relate, to each other, their earlier selves in whose image they were remade, Levine’s practice, and as physical markers to the vast networks of objects and meanings that comprise our collective cultural experience.
Levine presents two postcard collages of each 24 identical, framed postcards, that in and of themselves manifest notions of repetition and seriality. And as we walk past them, we see every postcard differently, as the others crowd into our peripheral vision. The postcard of the first is a detail of James Ensor’s painting Christ’s Entry into Brussels (1889). In this painting, the Anglo-Belgian artist depicted himself as Christ at the centre of a carnivalesque multitude. Many people in the painting are wearing masks, a recurrent motif of disguise in Levine’s work: they feature again in the second postcard collage, After Ensor: The Intrigue (detail). The viewer may imagine a further link to Brussels in the bronze Christ Child, a figure not unlike Manneken Pis, the fountain of a small boy that splashes forth in the centre of Brussels. This in turn harks back to Levine’s Fountain (Buddha), with which she reiterated Marcel Duchamp’s 1917 urinal/readymade Fountain that he signed R. Mutt.
Levine’s Very Large Cradle relates to a painting by Van Gogh that Levine reproduced in an earlier work: a woman is pictured holding the strings that rock a cradle, which is left outside of the image. Van Gogh was influenced by Millet: the cradle and coffin touch on how ideas and forms reappear in the arts through time. Seeing them together further amplifies their associative potential. Medicine Ball harks back to Levine’s own Beach Ball, after Roy Lichtenstein’s Girl with Ball, an image he had found in a hotel advertisement. The sculpture was a contradiction-in-form, representing an object of lightness in bronze. This opposition is reversed again in Medicine Ball — the original item is already heavy. Lightness abounds once more in Rabbit, cast from a found folkloric item. It recalls Levine’s postcard collage After Dürer: 1–18, only here the motif is leaping.
The colours in Monochromes After Emil Nolde: 1–12, are distilled from the pixilation of a photograph of a painting of poppies by the German expressionist Emil Nolde (1867–1956). Again, Levine’s choice of source is hardly innocent: in the nineteen forties Nolde was persecuted by the Nazi’s and forbidden to paint. He called the watercolours of flowers he made in secret during this period Unpaintings, a title which, by extension, also questions the status of these new paintings.
Sherrie Levine (b. 1947) lives and works in New York. Her earliest work was included in the seminal exhibition Pictures (1977) at Artists Space in New York. In 1981 Levine debuted her controversial series Untitled, After Walker Evans which, together with other similar series, made her a leading member of the “Pictures Generation,” a group of artists using appropriation techniques to challenge the notions of authenticity and originality in the media-saturated 1980s. Levine’s work has been the subject of solo exhibitions at prominent institutions worldwide and can be found in major international museum collections.