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Sturtevant at Thaddaeus Ropac Gallery: Vice Versa

March 5, 2018

ArtsMixed Media | by Harry Seymour


Having only recently moved in to his new premises on Mayfair’s Dover Street, where the exodus of Old Master dealers has been replaced with an influx of contemporary spaces, Thaddaeus Ropac is proving that his first London gallery can really hit the mark.

With outposts already existing in Salzburg and Paris; artists on his books including Gilbert & George and Anthony Gormley and having poached the Serpentine Gallery’s Julia Peyton-Jones with an offer of moving to the commercial side, he has proven he knows what he is doing.

Last week saw the opening of his latest show, which we think might just be his best yet. Vice Versa is a solo exhibition of paintings, photographs, installations and videos by the American female artist Elaine Sturtevant (1924-2014). She worked with Ropac for over twenty five years – he was instrumental in championing her career and helping her become one of the most recognised artist’s of her generation.

Vice Versa is Sturtevant’s first UK show since 2013 and her first ever retrospective since her death four years ago. It has been wonderfully curated by Peyton-Jones in dialogue with the artist’s daughter and draws on work from both the artist’s estate and private collection.

Thaddeaus Ropac – Sturtevant – Vice Versa

Feeling like a celebratory wake or posthumous prize, the show crescendos in a riot of mixed-media – helped by the elegance of the gallery’s plush listed residence; Ely House. The house wonderfully interacts with the artist’s work, often helping elucidate the underlying tensions in her work which addresses themes of self in the digital age through motifs of bulbs, slogans and fluorescents – all with her witty sense of urgency.

Thaddeaus Ropac – Sturtevant – Vice Versa

Sturtevant is often regarded as having led contemporary art investigations in to authorship and aesthetics over recent decades. Peter Eleey, the curator of her 2014 MoMA show in New York said; ‘she was not a copyist, plagiarist, parodist, forger, or imitator, but was rather a kind of actionist, who adopted style as her medium in order to investigate aspects of art’s making, circulation, consumption, and canonisation’.

After the year 2000, Sturtevant shifted her focus to video art. Mixing footage she had shot herself, with archival excerpts from television shows and adverts, she again delved in to the murky world of who can claim what as their own product. The politics of image production and circulation become both unravelled yet get more tangled as she examined the ‘overload of communications’ happening in the the digital age. The video Elastic Tango (2010) consists of nine stacked monitors looping a three-act-play which is reminiscent of the widow displays of television stores and questions the purpose of the media in the modern age.

Thaddeaus Ropac – Sturtevant – Vice Versa

Other works in the show include the artist’s wallpaper homage to Quentin Tarantino’s movie Kill Bill (2013), her take on Andy Warhol’s infamous flower prints from her very first solo show and her version of Frank Stella’s 1950’s Black Paintings. Clearly a theme of appropriation.

In her work, Sturtevant also displays a clear debt to the likes of Fluxus artist Joseph Beuys and Dada father Marcel Duchamp – a debt she readily acknowledges. However, through adopting their performative-and-process-based works and appropriating them through her own physical and spiritual machine, she flips their radical ideas on their heads another 180 degrees. And what would these seminal artists think of someone taking their body of work only to break it down and reassemble it in a new and personal way? Of course they would love it.

Words by Harry Seymour

Sturtevant: Vice Versa at Thaddeus Ropac, Ely House, Dover Street, London, until 31 March 2018.