In reproducing and appropriating the work of another artist, Sherrie Levine questions notions of authorship and originality, going a step further in addressing two of the conceptual challenges that have marked twentieth-century art since Marcel Duchamp created his famous urinal. We immediately recognise the question she poses, but the unknowns it contains continue to unfold. The Bachelors (After Marcel Duchamp) is not exactly a reproduction of one of Duchamp’s works. In fact, it is a three-dimensional construction of some of the elements that appear in the lower panel of The Large Glass, the visual part of Duchamp’s unfinished work The Bride Stripped Bare by Her Bachelors, Even. Specifically, the objects are six of the items in the group known as the Nine Malic Moulds, which Duchamp regarded as ‘the bachelors’, and which were in fact forms corresponding to patterns for uniforms worn in different occupations. Sherrie Levine extracted these patterns from The Large Glass and reproduced them in three-dimensional form, isolating each in its own vitrine. However, far from implying any deviation from Duchamp’s objectives, her work takes them to their logical extreme. The Bride Stripped Bare by Her Bachelors, Even—with the glass, The Green Box of notes on scraps of paper, and the series of works that accompanied it—constitutes a grand design, the drawings and instructions for making a machine, and Sherrie Levine has built one of the constituent parts that Duchamp himself planned to construct. Levine’s process of appropriation involves more than just reproducing an existing work: she literally makes a work by Marcel Duchamp. However, the word after that precedes the artist’s name in the title raises a number of questions. Though Levine’s piece looks like a work by Duchamp, it is not: it is a work ‘in the style of’ Duchamp. In other words, it has a certain added value that cannot be attributed to the French artist. Perhaps the title points to the debt that the work, or Sherrie Levine herself, owes to Duchamp. The choice of Duchamp is no coincidence: he is the artist who focussed most radically on the concepts of authorship and artistic originality. Clearly there is an element of homage in this reproduction, but it also entails a certain historic irony. Duchamp, an artist who opposed the fetishisation of the artwork, finds his work subjected to a process of fetishisation through the reproduction of one of his objects in an urn that conserves his aura. The contradiction materialised by Sherrie Levine is a perverse one. She fetishises a work of art that was transgressive, but at the same time, by reproducing the work of another artist, she commits a transgression that challenges notions of authorship. Duchamp turned a commonplace object—a urinal—into a work of art, and Andy Warhol created an exact reproduction of an everyday object—the Brillo Box—in order to present it as art. Sherrie Levine, in turn, creates an artwork out of an artwork. Duchamp, who said that anyone who reproduced one of his works would obtain an authentic Duchamp (in fact, there are a number of ‘authentic’ replicas of The Large Glass, the urinal, and other works of his), is presented with an authentic Duchamp, created not by the French artist, but by Sherrie Levine. Sherrie Levine proposes a game—a game of concepts—in which authorship lies not so much in the object as in the ideas it serves to generate and convey. In short, her work reflects an uncompromising fidelity to Marcel Duchamp.
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