Under the Sign of [sic]: Sturtevant’s Volte-Face

Bruce Hainley. MIT, $34.95 (304p) ISBN 978-1-58435-122-1
American artist Elaine Sturtevant has had a truly puzzling career over the last five decades, skillfully creating replicas of works by Duchamp, Warhol, Lichtenstein, and many others, shrewdly exploring the collective assumptions that shape the art world. As she once remarked, “I create vertigo.” Artforum contributing editor Hainley (coauthor of Art—A Sex Book) similarly creates vertigo in this first English-language monograph on Sturtevant. Hainley has made an earnest study of the divisive artist’s work, relishing its dizzying complexities and subversive implications, and he prefers showing over telling. Surveying archival reviews and documents, Hainley alternates on each page between parallel threads of analysis, on Sturtevant’s The Store of Claes Oldenburg and Picabia’s Ballet Relache, concurrently tracking how repetition can be used to complicate artistic identity, create “feedback,” and remove “cognition from the habits of recognition”—a rhetorical strategy the author replicates with the chapter’s dissonant structure. What follows is a farcical one-act play whose characters include a bawdy male escort and his older “silver fox” client who tries to unscramble Sturtevant’s work, particularly Gonzalez-Torres Untitled. It’s an awkwardly funny, if overworked passage that belies the critical issues it addresses, such as contemporary art’s “complacency and resignation.” With prose that is at turns incisive, lively, and deliciously irreverent, this book takes risks in mirroring its artist-subject, but ultimately rewards. 80 b&w illus. (Dec.)
Reviewed on: 10/14/2013
Release date: 11/01/2013
Genre: Nonfiction
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