Installation view Museum Haus Lange, 2010
Photo: Volker Döhne
PAIRS AND POSSES
MUSEUM HAUS LANGE
Opening: Sunday, 10 October 2010, 11.30 a.m., Museum Haus Lange
In a sweeping allusion to the 'two twins' constituted by Ludwig Mies van der Rohe's neighbouring buildings Haus Lange and Haus Esters, U.S. American concept artist Sherrie Levine (*1947 Hazleton, Pennsylvania, USA) will be presenting in Museum Haus Lange her first comprehensive overview of her Pairs and Posses, a group of works whose earliest piece dates back to 1992. The greater portion of these works, which are chiefly in groups of two or three, has been done in the last ten years.
Originality, repetition, time and materiality are the foremost points of departure in Sherrie Levine's creative output, and also have a strong bearing on her Pairs and Posses cast in bronze, glass and crystal. Already in the 1970s Levine took a radical step that was to leave its mark on art history: Instead of unconsciously or secretly emulating her artistic models, the way other artists do, Levine made her relationship to her antecedents perfectly clear by putting them literally in the picture. With that she turned the concept of artistic originality - one of the central tenets of Modernism - on its head and stunned the art world. By using the works of heroes such as Duchamp, Brancusi, Matisse and Steichen - both in terms of form and content - Levine creates counterparts to their photographs, paintings, drawings and sculptures. The questions of repetition and difference, copy and aura are phrased anew in each of her works - and still remain unanswered.
With the small sculptures that make up the Pairs and Posses, Levine does not simply tread the field of Modernism, which is mostly the focus of her inquiries; rather she weaves complex traceries from old, modern and non-Western art, from nature study, folk art and commercial art. Thus the original models for the pairs of dwarfs done in cast black glass, cast crystal and cast bronze equally a bronze Khmer torso and a piggy-bank family are to be found by Ebay, or in junk and antique shops. This jumbling of the contexts also applies at times to the titles of the works. One of the pairs of dwarfs is entitled for instance Avant-Garde and Kitsch, thus citing the eponymous text written in 1939 by the U.S. American critic and art theorist Clement Greenberg. That the one figure is based on a Walt Disney character while its partner demonstrates a more folksy origin, casts an ironic light on the distinction made between art and non-art. Repetition and Difference, the title of another of Levine's works, is simultaneously the title of a book by French philosopher Gilles Deleuze. And it could be taken as the leitmotif for Levine's artistic procedure: the repetition of set cultural elements is frequently performed by her by transposing them into different materials or media.
One question which the pairs in the Krefeld exhibition are likely to raise has already been posed by the artist herself: “Is a pair a repetition?” And what happens when the duality of the pairs is sundered by the presence of a third? In this way the artistic discourse enters into the realms of anthropology and psychology. From the newly-born babes on black grand pianos, which reference a work by Brancusi, our gaze roams all the way back to the Ishtar Gate of Babylon. A number of frequently repeated details from the gate's frescoes are then distinguishable in a set of 24 postcards.