Image: Thaddaeus Ropac London retraces the performance of Sturtevant in which she recreated The Store by Claes Oldenburg
Sturtevant, The Store of Claes Oldenburg, 1967. 623 East Ninth Street, New York. © Estate Sturtevant, Paris.
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Thaddaeus Ropac London retraces the performance of Sturtevant in which she recreated The Store by Claes Oldenburg

5 September 2022
London Ely House

By Eli Anapur

Authenticity and originality have been the highest praised qualities in art. However, not all artists put them on the top of their lists, as other modalities of expression, including references and citations, also may render highly original and unique results. 

One of the artists inspired by others and used their works in her own practice was American-born Elaine Sturtevant. Retracing her famous performance, which recreated Claes Oldenburg's The Store(1961), Thaddaeus Ropac Gallery in London will explore what originality means in contemporary art and provide insight into the pioneering artist's multifaceted practice. 

The Store

Sturtevant (1924 – 2014) was known for her disconcerting replicas of works by other artists that would eventually become iconic. The performance on which the exhibition centres took place in 1967 when she rented a shop on Manhattan's Lower East Side and displayed plastered cakes, cigarette butts, dresses, and hamburgers. The performance recreated Oldenburg's, which happened in the vicinity just a few years prior and was considered a landmark of Pop Art

Sturtevant's gesture was met with hostility and misunderstanding, and she was even beaten by a group of schoolchildren and ended up in hospital. While Oldenburg criticized the commodification of artworks, Sturtevant pushed the critique further around the concept of creativity itself. 

The exhibition will feature fourteen objects she made for the performance, brought together for the first time, and the video work The Dark Threat of Absence (2002), in which the artist re-enacts Paul McCarthy's film Painter (1995). 

Dialectic of Distance

"The appropriationists were really about the loss of originality and I was about the power of thought," stated Sturtevant in a 2013 interview. Her reproduction process serves to explore the tensions that arise through subjectivity, and the exhibition invites viewers to approach her works on these terms. 

The Dark Threat of Absence shows Sturtevant re-enacting another artist acting as another artist. McCarthy in Painter disguised himself as a cartoon character that wandered around a wooden set shouting'de Kooning!' Sturtevant pushed the critique of the artist's image as a tortured genius even further by highlighting the phallocentric nature of the concept. 

The arguments advanced by French philosopher Gilles Deleuze in his early masterpiece Difference and Repetition (1968) are consistent with Sturtevant's method. She generates a difference in the Deleuzian sense—the distance that simultaneously divides and connects two entities—by reproducing the works of other artists through her own actions and movements.

Sturtevant worked in a variety of media, from painting and sculpture to photography and video pieces that mixed commercial and internet imagery with her own film materials. Her videos use a particular form of repetition based on a continuous loop to interact with the image-heavy media culture of today.

Sturtevant at Thaddaeus Ropac 

The exhibition Sturtevant: Dialectic of Distance will be on view at Thaddaeus Ropac Gallery in London from September 8th until October 3rd, 2022. 

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