Sherrie Levine: Paula Cooper Gallery
Burton, Johanna, Artforum International
Since she came on the scene in the mid-1970s, Sherrie Levine has made art that couldn't exist without that which came before it. Levine's insistence on her project's inherent secondhandness has meant that her work is often understood as illustrating the toppling of "originality" and "authenticity" by the bowling ball of postmodernism. Yet, as much as her infamous reworkings of extant "masterworks" (by Walker Evans, Egon Schiele, Constantin Brancusi, and the like) have operated to critically account for inequities in art's production and reception, they have succeeded, too, in nudging otherwise opposing strains into grudging conversation. Indeed, Levine's oeuvre might be seen as what Deleuze would call a minor--and I would call a feminist--literature, constructed from the discords of the "major" it baldly siphons from.
"I don't think it's useful to see dominant culture as monolithic," Levine asserted in these pages in 2003. "I'd rather see it as polyphonic with unconscious voices that may be at odds with one another. If I am attentive to these voices, then maybe I can collaborate with some of them to create something almost new." In Levine's recent exhibition at Paula Cooper Gallery, the artist's interest in the "almost new" was made manifest in a collection of objects and images that produced an elegant mise en abyme approximating not only polyphony but, to use Mikhail Bakhtin's term, polyglossia.
Walking into the gallery, one was greeted by so many pairs of pairs that it felt like entering a hall of mirrors. Checklist in hand, I initially assumed an error had occurred, since the pages detailing two rows of vitrined objects appeared identical save for the minor distinction of "front row, left to right" and "back row, left to right." Indeed, the first row of cases put on offer multiple bronze casts of flea-market booty: a human jawbone, a phrenology head, a weird coat-shaped wine-bottle holder, and an old-fashioned iron facing off with a proud hunting dog, goose drooping from its mouth. …