STURTEVANT (1924-2014)
STURTEVANT (1924-2014)
STURTEVANT (1924-2014)
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STURTEVANT (1924-2014)

Warhol Flowers

Details
STURTEVANT (1924-2014)
Warhol Flowers
signed, titled, and dated 'Warhol Flowers Sturtevant 1990' (on the reverse)
synthetic polymer paint and silkscreen ink on canvas
115 1/2 x 115 in. (293.2 x 291.1 cm.)
Painted in 1990.
Provenance
Perry Rubenstein Gallery, New York
Acquired from the above by the present owner, 2006
Literature
L. Maculan, ed., Sturtevant Catalogue Raisonné 1964-2004, Frankfurt, 2004, p. 75 and 79, no. 153 (illustrated with incorrect dimensions)
Exhibited
Frankfurt, Museum für Moderne Kunst; Cambridge, MIT ListVisual Arts Center, Sturtevant: The Brutal Truth, March-July 2005.

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Isabella Lauria
Isabella Lauria Head of 21st Century Evening Sale

Lot Essay

Sturtevant challenged the accepted canon of twentieth-century art with her rigorous appropriations which drew both respect and controversy in equal measure. One of her most celebrated works is the monumental Warhol Flowers, which takes as its subject the signature imagery of the Pop icon. A standout in her appropriations of Warhol, which began in the 1960s, Warhol Flowers is purposefully grand at nearly ten feet square. This work has a privileged position within Sturtevant’s oeuvre, having been exhibited in the traveling exhibition Sturtevant: The Brutal Truth in 2005. Warhol Flowers is as original as Warhol’s 1960s silkscreen flowers themselves. When asked about his techniques in an interview, Warhol famously replied in a winking and deadpan manner, “I don’t know. Ask Elaine [Sturtevant]” (A. Warhol, quoted by U. Kittelmann, ed., Sturtevant: The Brutal Truth, Switzerland, 2004, p. 17). He even gave Sturtevant one of his Flower paintings so that she could memorize his process. This is an endorsement by one of the most influential artists of all time to be sure, but it also suggests that Sturtevant’s investigation of authorship is more than reproduction. It is an avant-garde in and of itself that prefigured the concerns of Pictures Generation artists like Richard Prince and Sherrie Levine.

Warhol Flowers combines pink, red, and black to stunning effect, and it instigates a play of hues and patterns that fills a room with graphic exuberance. The silkscreened flowers float over the scene, surreal and emotive like the still lifes of Frida Kahlo. Sturtevant’s canvases were not direct copies, but reproduced from memory, thereby leaving room for subjectivity and imagination. These vibrant flowers seem to grow out of the austerity of black and white, like nature’s inevitable return after a storm or fire. Yet Sturtevant’s colors are beyond nature, and instead gesture toward Warhol’s fabulously unexpected silvers, pinks, and golds, or perhaps even the otherworldly pigment of Claude Monet’s late landscapes. So important was Sturtevant’s relationship to Warhol that she would mount a show in 1991 entirely of her Warhol Flowers, of which the present example is one of the most visually intriguing.

Sturtevant, born in 1924 in Ohio, moved to New York and found herself in the city’s artistic epicenter. She befriended Robert Rauschenberg and Jasper Johns, and in 1964, she began her iconic repetitions of other artists, especially her largely male colleagues and collaborators. Starting in the early 1970s, Sturtevant did not exhibit her work for over ten years, in part due to pushback against her process. Yet she could not be silenced, and in the 1980s, she turned her astute eye to the next generation of conceptual artists, like Robert Gober, Paul McCarthy, and Felix Gonzalez-Torres.

Her influence only grew in the twenty-first century. In 2011, Sturtevant won the Golden Lion for Lifetime Achievement at the 54th Venice Biennale, and in 2014, the year of her death, her retrospective at the Museum of Modern Art, New York, opened to critical acclaim. In 2019, T: The New York Times Style Magazine cited her Warhol Flowers series as one of the “25 Works of Art That Define the Contemporary Age,” noting that, “By focusing on Pop Art, itself a comment on mass production and the suspect nature of authenticity, Sturtevant was taking the genre to its full logical extension” (Z. Lescaze and T. La Force, “The 25 Works of Art That Define the Contemporary Age,” T: The New York Times Style Magazine, July 15, 2019, https://www.nytimes.com/2019/07/15/t-magazine/most-important-contemporary-art.html).

In a conceptual gesture, Sturtevant often asks us to look outward, toward others, yet in works like Warhol Flowers, we can see her improvisational love for art and artists come through. As New York Times co-chief art critic Holland Cotter wrote in his review of her MoMA retrospective, “More often her work was a variation on a theme: a meditation, not an imitation. Illusion wasn’t the point; action was, the gesture of shaping something new but different and related from something else” (H. Cotter, “Taking Copycatting to a Higher Level,” New York Times, November 13, 2014, https://www.nytimes.com/2014/11/14/arts/sturtevant-double-trouble-a-career-retrospective-at-moma.html). Sturtevant’s greatness had nothing to do with the artists she repeated or cited, or even appropriation. As critic Bruce Hainley has argued, “Manet had an intense dialogue with Velázquez, as did Picasso…We don’t think of that as appropriation” (B. Hainley, quoted in M. Fox, “Elaine Sturtevant, Who Borrowed Others’ Work Artfully, Is Dead at 89,” The New York Times, May 16, 2014, https://www.nytimes.com/2014/05/17/arts/design/elaine-sturtevant-appropriation-artist-is-dead-at-89.html). Warhol Flowers is a dialogue across time, a loving homage, and a summarizing moment of Sturtevant’s impactful career. Repetition is a form of love, and Sturtevant’s perpetual return, here to Warhol’s Flowers, says as much about her as it does her memorized source imagery.
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