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The Collection of Thomas and Doris Ammann

Untitled (Two Inch Stripes) #1

Untitled (Two Inch Stripes) #1
signed, inscribed and dated 'Sherrie Levine 1986 #1' (on the reverse)
casein and wax on mahogany
24 x 20 in. (61 x 50.8 cm.)
Executed in 1986.
Donald Young Gallery, Chicago
Thomas Ammann Fine Art AG, Zurich
Acquired from the above by the present owner
Sale room notice
Please note this work is signed, inscribed and dated 'Sherrie Levine 1986 #1' on the reverse.

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Michael Baptist
Michael Baptist Specialist

Lot Essay

Sherrie Levine, whose work in photography as part of the Pictures Generation changed art history forever, has also created a rigorous body of work in paint, with Untitled (Two Inch Stripes) #1 being among the most captivating. Known primarily for her appropriation and re-photography of photographs by Walker Evans and other iconic male photographers, in effect exhibiting images identical to theirs and calling them her own, Levine completely upends ownership, originality, the medium, and taste. Her revolutionary act opened doors for generations of artists to question normative modes of artmaking. Levine uses the camera as a tool and does not identify as a photographer as such, allowing her to extend her necessary provocations into multiple media. Untitled (Two Inch Stripes) #1 is a rewarding example of her shift to painting on wood in the 1980s, which shook up the canon to the same degree as her appropriative photographs. In any medium, Levine transforms the course of history, and Untitled (Two Inch Stripes) #1 is essential to understanding the vastness of her ongoing critiques.

After she sent a shockwave through the art world with After Walker Evans (1981), Levine turned to painting as the next medium to explore. Created in a fertile period entitled Thin Stripes between her 1985 Broad Stripe series of paintings and her 1987 paintings on knotted panels, Untitled (Two Inch Stripes) #1 alternates between narrow, vertical bands of grey and red, creating a bold seriality reminiscent of a diverse array of references, from Bauhaus design and Art Deco to Minimalism and Navajo blankets. In the tradition of Dada, Levine was also interested in gameboards in this moment, and she saw the masterpieces of art history as tokens to be advanced.

Unlike her Broad Stripe series, Untitled (Two Inch Stripes) #1 is symmetrical, with uncropped bands on each side. Levine’s paintings of this period are not copies, however, and instead involve the artist’s imagination more forcefully, creating a collage from history itself. Despite her interest in regimented, repetitive, and copied forms, Levine’s paintings evince the necessary presence of the artist’s hand, something that is often absent from traditional photography. The thick, quick drying pigments Levine uses interact with the wood underneath and become modulated in texture, unlike the smoothness of a photograph. There is thus a tactility that brings us closer to the artist and her complex intentions as we move with her throughout time, the stripes becoming waves or musical notation.

Though Levine’s work and the Pictures Generation generally have been associated with coolness and irony, there is a warmth and desire for community in her paintings. As Levine has observed, “I feel my pieces are most successful when they function as membranes permeable from both sides so that there is an easy flow between an imaginary past and an imaginary future, between my history and yours” (S. Levine, quoted in S.W. Melville, “Not Painting: The New Work of Sherrie Levine,” Sherrie Levine: October Files, Cambridge, 2018, p. 56). The lively bands of Untitled (Two Inch Stripes) #1 become the membrane that we traverse between media and their respective traditions. Even in its spareness, Untitled (Two Inch Stripes) #1 illustrates the magnitude of Levine’s intervention by giving herself and artists after her permission to use all media simultaneously, collaging and repurposing them for a multivalent look at painting’s history and contemporary relevance. To an equal degree as her renewal of photography by questioning its very foundations, she likewise takes us to the most basic roots of painting. Pigment upon wood, in Levine’s hands, becomes a rhythmic landscape that does away with hierarchies.

Gerhard Richter, Abstract Painting, 1992. Hamburger Kunsthalle. © Gerhard Richter 2022 (0103).

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