STURTEVANT (1924-2014)
STURTEVANT (1924-2014)
STURTEVANT (1924-2014)
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A Century of Art: The Gerald Fineberg Collection
STURTEVANT (1924-2014)

Johns Painting with Two Balls

STURTEVANT (1924-2014)
Johns Painting with Two Balls
stenciled with the artist's name and title and dated 'PAINTING WITH TWO BALLS 1987 STURTEVANT' (lower edge); signed again, titled again and dated again '"Johns Painting with Two Balls" e. sturtevant '87' (on the reverse)
encaustic and paper collage on three joined canvases with metal brackets and two balls
65 x 54 1/8 in. (165.1 x 137.5 cm.)
Executed in 1987.
Stefan Stux Gallery, New York
Bess Cutler Gallery, New York
Private collection, United States, 1988
Anon. sale; Phillips, New York, 14 November 2019, lot 3
Acquired at the above sale by the present owner
R. Smith, "Art: Sigmar Polke's Witty Disappearing Act", The New York Times, 6 November 1987, p. 32.
J. Waters and B. Hainley, Art - A Sex Book, New York, 2003, pp.18, 20-21 and 203 (illustrated).
L. Maculan, ed., Sturtevant: Catalogue Raisonné 1964-2004, Ostfildern-Ruit, 2004, p. 52, no. 31 (illustrated).
New York, Stux Gallery, Sturtevant., 1987, n.p. (illustrated).
Württembergischer Kunstverein Stuttgart; Deichtorhallen Hamburg, Nice, Villa Arson, STURTEVANT, June 1992-March 1993, p. 81 (illustrated).

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Lot Essay

Sturtevant’s Johns Painting with Two Balls is an exemplary work from her return to artmaking after a decade-long hiatus in the 1970s. At nearly five-and-a-half feet by four-and-a-half-feet, this imposing painting immerses us in the artist’s endlessly creative oeuvre. Her personal and memory-based appropriations (she preferred the term “repetitious”) expand on the work of generations of avant-garde artists like Marcel Duchamp, Andy Warhol and Sherrie Levine, but all with Sturtevant’s inimitable style. Reproduced in the legendary volume Art: A Sex Book by John Waters and Bruce Hainley, Johns Painting with Two Balls is an integral part of the postwar artistic cannon. As Peter Eleey, curator of Sturtevant’s 2014 retrospective at the Museum of Modern Art, New York, wrote, “In some ways, style is her medium… She was the first postmodern artist — before the fact — and also the last (P. Eleey, quoted in M. Fox, “Elaine Sturtevant, Who Borrowed Others’ Work Artfully, Is Dead at 89,” New York Times, May 16, 2014,

In appropriating Jasper Johns Painting with Two Balls, which currently resides in the artist’s personal collection, Sturtevant charts a new course in Pop art and postwar painting generally. Comprised of three canvases, she weaves multiple art histories together, and with its horizon line of sorts, Johns Painting with Two Balls may suggest a history of landscape in addition to Arte Povera, Dada, Pop, and Conceptualism. Regarding the former, Sturtevant incorporates Lucio Fontana’s slash technique into the present work to tongue-in-cheek ends. The canvas opens itself up to our gaze, which is supplemented by its bold primary colors. Even the eponymous spheres are unabashedly multicolored like a Pointillist scene. Since Sturtevant worked based on memory, Johns Painting with Two Balls, as with Andy Warhol’s slight differentiation among screenprints, is not an exact copy of Johns’s painting. This allowed Sturtevant to center her own subjectivity, rather than purely intellectual or ironic aims, and it is undoubtedly an act of immense artistic skill. It is also relevant that, like Johns, she used encaustic wax in the present work, which is a very difficult medium to use because of its fast drying. Yet, as seen in Johns Painting with Two Balls, that difficulty results in gestural marks that show the embodied movement of the artist’s hand. Sturtevant likewise makes her presence known in the boldly stenciled title and signature at the bottom edge of the canvas.

Johns, himself a friend of Sturtevant, played an important role in her work. For example, Robert Rauschenberg commissioned Sturtevant to paint a reproduction of a stolen Johns flag painting (both Rauschenberg and Johns were collectors of her work). She also recreated Johns’s iconic Target with Four Faces (1955) with her own Johns Target with Four Faces (1987-1990). In addition to her artistic practice, Sturtevant was a friend and collaborator with many, as evinced by the outpouring of memories and tributes upon her death. Critic Margalit Fox eulogized her thusly, “She was sometimes called the mother of appropriation art…As a replicator, Ms. Sturtevant was an original” (M. Fox, “Elaine Sturtevant, Who Borrowed Others’ Work Artfully, Is Dead at 89,” New York Times, May 16, 2014,

Perhaps her deft navigation of history came from her degree in psychology at the University of Iowa and her Masters from Teacher’s College at Columbia University. She managed to create work that was both about the art world and widely accessible. This generosity allowed her career to remain relevant to generations of artists and thinkers. In 2011, Sturtevant won the Golden Lion for Lifetime Achievement at the 54th Venice Biennale, and in 2014, her posthumous retrospective at the Museum of Modern Art, New York, opened to widespread acclaim. Holland Cotter, New York Times co-chief art critic, in his review of the MoMA exhibition, wrote “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).

Sturtevant melded past and present, the historical and the personal, like no other contemporary artist. In the tradition of the European avant-gardes, she used humor to make serious claims about the nature of art and its role in society. She also considered the role of the artist. In Sturtevant’s case, she saw herself as an interlocutor, a driver of community and mutual respect among artists. In the tradition of Dada and Surrealism, collaboration was essential for her. Sturtevant, above all, loved art and artists.

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