American artist Sherrie Levine’s recent exhibition Hong Kong Dominoes at David Zwirner in Hong Kong (4 September–13 October 2021) is comprised of six bodies of work that span three decades of the artist’s career.
Levine rose to prominence as a member of the Pictures Generation, a group of artists based in New York in the late 1970s and 1980s. Originally trained as a printmaker, this has continued influencing her work, of which multiple images and mechanical reproduction form the foundation.
The artist chooses, reproduces and re-presents the works of dead white male artists as her own – works in the past have appropriated Walker Evans, Matisse, Brâncusi, Duchamp— undermining and calling into question concepts like authorship, originality and authenticity, and our fetishization of these values and of certain works of art. Several works in the current exhibition make reference to modernist works.
In a group of 22 watercolour-on-paper drawings After Henri Matisse (1985), Levine recreates and presents a sequence of simple line portraits taken from Matisse’s later sketches. They look very much like the modern artist’s work. By appropriating the works of male artists and inserting herself as a re-creator of these works, Levine directs a critique at the ingrained patriarchal dominance in art history, and subverts its authority.
Across two exhibition rooms hangs Monochromes After Renoir Nudes (2016) a series of paintings that look like Pantone colour swatches, with individual panels painted in a monochrome colour value: dusty pinks, muted earth and olive green. This series, based on the female nude, a traditionally male subject, is an extreme abstraction or reduction of Renoir’s nudes to their simplest essence by using a chromatic computer algorithm to calculate each figure’s average colour, resulting in a monochrome panel. These nude paintings, once considered erotic, and still considered iconic, valuable, art fetish objects, in a commodity sense, have been reduced to nothing more than colour swatches.
On the facing wall hangs a series of eleven giclée inkjet prints, After Feininger: 1–11 (2021). This series of photographs of photographs by Bauhaus architect-turned-photographer Andreas Feininger, were taken in the 1940s for Life magazine to document the post-war industrial landscape of the US. Again, stereotypical ‘male’ industrial or architectural sites are depicted— quarries, mines, factories— in the midst of otherwise beautiful, monumental natural surroundings. Industry scars and despoils the natural landscape.
On view for the first time is also the titular Hong Kong Dominoes: 1–12 (2017), a series of twelve identical paintings on mahogany that replicate a group of dominoes that Levine purchased on a trip to Hong Kong in 2012. The dominoes are reduced to an abstract and highly graphic series of white and red dots on black painted mahogany panels. Hung in a row across two walls, like a row of dominoes, the panels evoke minimalist and abstract paintings from the ‘60s, the repetitious image of a mass produced consumer product reminiscent of Andy Warhol’s prints.
While the meaning of her reproduced works is founded in relation to the works or objects which are appropriated or replicated, Levine’s deconstruction and critical attacks on originality and ownership of ideas echo French postmodern theorist Roland Barthes concept of the death of the author, in which the reader plays a role in developing meaning and interpreting the work. There is no singular narrative or interpretation.
It seems fitting that the central work and title of Levine’s show should be a game. Much like the Dadaists before her, it is difficult not to see Levine’s work as a whole as a game, playing with and subverting art tropes, and challenging our views of what is art.
Top Image: Installation view, Sherrie Levine, Hong Kong Dominoes: 1–12, 2017
Published in Artomity, Autumn Issue 22, 2021