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Leaps Jumps and Bumps

28.06.13- 26.08.13


Reviewed by Naomi Itami / 16.09.13


The line-up of startled-looking sex dolls (Sex Dolls, 2012) pressed up against the gallery windows was the biggest clue, but it was the combined sensory overload of relentless techno-beat and flashing video monitors at Leaps Jumps and Bumps (Sturtevant’s recent first solo UK exhibition) that made me want to leap for the exit into the greenery of Hyde Park. Theodor Adorno’s famous dictum “Every work of art is an uncommitted crime” came to mind, not, unfortunately, in its common reading of breaking with societal norms, but rather in the bombardment of the societal norms Sturtevant’s work suggests we’ve created for ourselves.

Prescient or decidedly on-trend, Sturtevant, at 83, is finally garnering the recognition many say is overdue, winning the Golden Lion for Lifetime Achievement at the 2011 Venice Biennale.  Working in a variety of media (but primarily in video and film), her long experience in the art of appropriation, re-making works by everyone from Lichtenstein to Gonzalez-Torres, started with her controversial entry into the art world of the 60‘s with Warhol responding to questions about his Flower Paintings, “I don’t know, ask Elaine (Sturtevant).”  Indeed, her re-creation of Warhol’s Marilyn Monroe Prints (Warhol Diptych, 2004) are included here, and point to questions surrounding authorship, authenticity and interpretation.  Of course other artists (particularly from the 80‘s — Richard Prince and Sherrie Levine come to mind) also raise questions about originality in art, with the difference being that Sturtevant recreates artworks, step by painstaking step, mostly from memory, and without adding any overt gestures of her own.  Her near-clairvoyant instinct for choosing artists that would become iconic figures in modern art long before they achieved widespread recognition (Johns, Rauschenberg, Stella, Beuys, Haring) she attributes to the “distance” she achieved during her self-imposed exile from the art world for nearly a decade in the 70’s.

Snippets of Paul McCarthy’s phantasmagoric sex films, stock photos of the natural world, unattributed internet and advertising images, and cartoon imagery (the most memorable being a shrill Betty Boop endlessly repeating “what shall I do?”) make up the video installation Elastic Tango, 2010.  Shown on an inverted pyramid of nine identical screens, the manic, cacophonous smorgasbord of contemporary culture mesmerises the viewer into an indifferent stupor. Likewise Finite Infinite, 2010 spans the length of one of the gallery’s longest walls, and features a large, looped projection of a dog running repeatedly across a grassy field.  Reminiscent of Muybridge’s photographic studies in animal locomotion, the never-ending run triggers the notion that every image is reminiscent of another, that repetition and replication make heterogeneity and originality obsolete, eventually rendering all images meaningless and devoid of agency, intent and effect.

While Sturtevant correctly references the “imposition of the cybernetic world”1 where untethered images and unattributed information are disposable, ever-multiplying, and inexorably networked and re-circulated, most of Leaps, Jumps and Bumps plays out as a caricature of modern daily life but successfully, if bluntly, puts her message across.  Despite the show’s strong conceptual leanings to do with representation and re-contextualisation, the viewer’s experience is still like bathing in digital detritus.

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Installation view, STURTEVANT: LEAPS JUMPS AND BUMPS, Serpentine Gallery, London (28 June - 26 August 2013) © 2013 Jerry Hardman-Jones


Installation view, STURTEVANT: LEAPS JUMPS AND BUMPS, Serpentine Gallery, London (28 June - 26 August 2013) © 2013 Jerry Hardman-Jones