I’m delighted to hear Martha Schwendener talk about reading an artist’s work differently today from the way it was read yesterday. I like some of the differences between today and yesterday that Martha points to, but I don’t think it’s the Occupy movement that explains why we read Sherrie Levine’s work the way we do today. I think it’s just time.
Martha says it’s important to remember that it was a radical gesture for Levine to photograph Walker Evans’s photographs in 1981. Alas, I don’t remember—at least, I’m not excited about making the effort to remember. Martha talks about people looking at a Walker Evans photo and thinking: Sherrie Levine—the people of a very small microcosm I’m afraid. Charles Palermo, a terrific young art historian, gave a lecture recently at the Studio School about Evans, about Evans’s growing significance for our moment. (He didn’t mention Sherrie Levine.) Martha suggests Levine “arm-wrestles” with history to make images from the past her own. I don’t see the “arm-wrestling.” I see Levine simply declaring the images hers with a click of a machine.
Jerry Saltz, the berserk genius art critic for New York Magazine, brought Elizabeth Murray into his review of the Levine show. He was suggesting Murray and Levine were birds of a feather. I think—especially today—Murray and Levine look very different. Murray was a painter: she was an “arm-wrestler.” Levine rejected painting. Jerry ends his review saying, “Levine’s is a conversation that still needs to happen.” I guess he’s talking about Levine’s conversation with the male artists whose work she “appropriates.” But isn’t it the “conversation” that’s possible between Levine’s work and Murray’s that’s more urgent today? And might not that “conversation” have some implications for the Occupy movement?