Elaine Sturtevant, Image Over Image, 2004 © Sturtevant, photo: Axel Schneider
Elaine Sturtevant, Image Over Image, 2004 © Sturtevant, photo: Axel Schneider


The Brutal Truth

Her work is undoubtedly one of the most interesting and unusual contributions to contemporary art.This exhibition of more than 140 works by Paris-based American artist Sturtevant (born 1930 in Lakewood, Ohio) covering a period of four decades is the first extensive museum show by an artist who plays such an important role in the art history of the second half of the 20th century. In keeping with her consistent und fascinating artistic concept, for the first time in its history the MMK is devoting all its exhibition rooms exclusively to one artistic oeuvre.

Marcel Duchamp’s "Mona Lisa" and his 1,200 coal bags, Andy Warhol’s "Flowers" and "Marilyns", Jasper Johns’ legendary flags and number paintings, Joseph Beuys’ "Fat Corner", Anselm Kiefer’s lead airplane, Frank Stella’s "Die Fahne hoch!" and Felix Gonzalez-Torres’ "America": Over the past forty years, Sturtevant has been making use of perhaps the most radical work of her generation, and in doing so she has adhered to a rigorous conceptual strategy. In 1964 – surprisingly close in time to the »originals« – she decided to repeat works by her artist colleagues and to avail herself of these as a source and catalyst for »expanding and developing current aesthetic ideas, examining the concept of originality and exploring the relationship between original and originality, as well as accessing space for new thinking. (Sturtevant). The remarkable thing about this is that Sturtevant chose those works which, from today’s point of view, are "icons" in the more recent history of art. Repeating existing works, Sturtevant achieves an absolutely intriguing effect, so that one could turn American art critic Alan R. Solomon’s question: "Is it a flag or is it a painting?" into "Is it a Johns or is it a Sturtevant?" As the artist herself says: "The brutal truth of this work is that it is not copy". Like no other artist before her, Sturtevant insists in her works on the question of the true value of art in the art business, of authorship, of the genuinely creative role, and puts up the terms original and originality for debate. By focussing solely on her oeuvre, the MMK also addresses the issue of the institution of the museum as the refuge and custodian of the "original". Sturtevant’s œuvre, which includes painting, sculpture, drawing, photography, film and video, is still capable of emotionally and intellectually irritating viewers, as she holds up the mirror to the (art) world so that it can recognise what it is. Moreover, at a time when the difference between original and duplication is becoming increasingly unclear ( "Now That Ketchup Is Green", Sturtevant), her work is in astonishing harmony with our life worlds. To accompany the exhibition a book designed by the artist has been published containing facsimile handwritten notes, an interview with John Waters, texts by Bernard Blistène, Udo Kittelmann and Mario Kramer, and reproductions of the exhibited works. A second volume to be published shortly will be a catalogue raisonné of the artist’s paintings, sculptures, film and video works. Both the exhibition and the publications are supported by the Freunde des Museums für Moderne Kunst e.V., the Hessische Kulturstiftung and the Georg und Franziska Speyer’sche Hochschulstiftung.


25 September 2004 — 30 Januar 2005


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