Beginning in 1964 with Andy Warhol’s Flowers, Sturtevant’s practice involved the re-invention of some of the most iconic pieces of recent art history. Her unique ability to source works so promptly after their completion displayed an uncommon capacity to recognise the significance of artistic phenomena at a very early stage. The current lot, for example, was completed in the very same year in which Warhol created and exhibited his Flower silkscreens at Leo Castelli’s gallery. In fact Warhol, who was already exploring similar interrogations surrounding ideas of authorship and the concept of the ‘original artwork’, gave Sturtevant the original silkscreen he had used in order for her to produce her series. As a result, Warhol Flowers, which features four brightly coloured, crisp Warholian flowers on a black background with pointed, fresh, green blades of grass, perfectly imitates the original on which it is based.
This new and controversial take on contemporary art initially incited reactions of indignation and a general lack of understanding regarding Sturtevant’s work. However, in retrospect and upon deeper consideration art historians have come to realise the significance of her practice and the contribution it makes towards a redefinition of the basic principles defining art itself. Instead of commenting upon the artistic achievements of her contemporaries, Sturtevant’s work places existing objects into new contexts and encourages us to reconsider accepted definitions of art. Using a conceptual framework the technique and medium become secondary to the overarching aim of creating an emotional and intellectual jolt. This is achieved through “encountering a known object that is then denied its content [which results], if not in immediate rejection, in a shifting and disturbing mode of thought. There is a loss of balance that demands going beyond" (Sturtevant quoted in: Exh. Cat., Düsseldorf, Musée des Beaux-Arts de Montréal, Rene Magritte, 1996, p. 125)
One of the most significant thoughts provoked by Sturtevant’s practice, and especifically by Warhol Flowers, revolves around the use of Warhol as an artist and his own particular modes of production. When Warhol established his ‘Factory’ he was no longer physically involved in the process of creating his own art works, instead handing this task over to his assistants. As such, his role became solely intellectual. Thus, in creating her work with the same means in which Warhol executed his iconic Flower paintings, Sturtevant astutely questions the originality of the latter’s work and pushes the boundaries of authorship. The question of original and copy begins to blend into insignificance and both become original works of art. Sturtevant’s paradox is that precisely by making the ‘copy’ as such the basis of her work, she creates something that is absolutely ‘original’ and unique. As Giulio Paolini remarked, quite wryly, it “looks like she’s the only artist who can’t be copied” (Giulio Paolini quoted in Sturtevant: Catalogue Raisonné, Ostfildern, 2004, p. 36).
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