Executed in 2004, Loulou is a playful and poetic example of Sherrie Levine’s enduring investigation into the strategies and codes of representation, appropriation and authorship. Cast in polished bronze, a parrot here is majestically perched upon a branch with the aura and presence of classical sculpture – its wings slightly flapped open and eyes glistening gleefully as it peeks at the viewer. Resplendent and shimmering, Loulou notably presents itself as the sculptural reincarnation of Gustave Flaubert’s eponymously named parrot from his novel Un Coeur Simple, the much adored pet the leading character Félicité has stuffed upon his death as a relic of devotion. The simple yet moving story of Félicité’s attachment to Loulou, to the extent she considers him the representation of the Holy Spirit, has inspired artists and writers alike. Sitting alongside such works as David Hockney’s My Mother with a Parrot, 1973-74, or Julian Bane’s iconic novel Flaubert’s Parrot, 1984, Levine’s Loulou pays homage to Flaubert’s legacy, only to then playfully subvert the iconic status of his LouLou.
Levine, who rose to prominence as part of the ‘Pictures’ generation in the late 1970s and early 1980s alongside Cindy Sherman and Richard Prince, first began investigating the art historical and cultural significance of iconic artworks through the medium of photography. Through her daring act of appropriating well-known photographs through the very process of photography and re-presenting these images as her own, series such as her iconic After Walker Evans, 1981, became hallmarks of postmodernism. Since the late 1980s, Levine extended this investigation into the three-dimensional realm through sculptural ‘realizations’ of iconic masterpieces, as in La Fortune (After Man Ray), 1990, or the Duchampian look-a-like Fountain (Madonna), 1991. Based on the electrotype model of a parrot the artist found at a flea market and subsequently multiplied in an edition of twelve, Levine’s Loulou brilliantly performs Levine’s critical exploration of the complex relationship between original and replica. Indeed, while the process or casting implies the possibility of endless repetition, the polished bronze with which LouLou is cast simultaneously imbues the work its own maternal permanence and preciousness – transforming it into a permanent icon of Flaubert’s much beloved Loulou. Disrupting both canon and convention, this work ultimately illuminates the ways in which history is told and retold and prompts us, as viewers, to reconsider more broadly the different meanings the art object accumulates within and beyond their lifetime.