Sherrie Levine at David Zwirner

Words: Tag Christof

February 28 2016

Long before the digital artists of the aughts (see our Studio Visit with Rafael Rozendaal) or the emergence of the post-internet artists of today (see our visit with Rollin Leonard), Sherrie Levine was busy at creating work that both honored and called into question all that came before it. Her appropriation work began with the photographing of some of Walker Evans’ photographs of Depression era sharecroppers from a MoMa exhibition catalog and presenting them as her own. The work After Walker Evans flummoxed art theorists of the time and continues to provoke discussions about the semantics of originality in art. She is the OG “meta-artist”, and is ever more relevant as the art world becomes even more iterative and self contained.

This week, an exhibition of new works opened at David Zwirners 20th street gallery in New York. The centerpiece of the show are four new pieces by Levine, each consisting of four separate elements: one cheerfully bright SMEG refrigerator and three mahogany panels, each with their front surfaces painted in a complimentary and equally cheerfully shade.

The bold pastels, which the curator refers to as a “chromatic buffet,” are striking – and at first glance look as if they could be a riff on a 1950’s home decor and renovation display. However, the shades of each of the panels represent the algorithmic average of colors taken from a series of paintings of the nude figure by Renoir. It is a technique that Levine developed in the late 1980’s while working on her reductionist “Meltdown” series.

“The World of Interiors is my favorite shelter magazine. Often, there is a SMEG advertisement. SMEG is an Italian company that manufactures refrigerators in a retro style and saccharine colors. I thought it would be interesting to pair them with some monochrome paintings of mine, After Renoir Nudes, which are in fleshy shades. I’m hoping for some sort of synergy results.”

As with every Levine piece, the works beg speculation and questioning of both the artists own intentions, as well as the connotations and contradictions they, as all of Levine’s work is, are so demonstrative of. Perhaps the work is simply a jab at the endless co-opting by fine art and industrial design of one another: the lusty refrigerators were certainly designed with a degree of artfulness, but to consider that, even on some arcane level, they are part of the same chromatic buffet as Renoir’s classical nude makes the relationship all the more explicit. Perhaps there’s something to the analogy of flesh: the refrigerator is the source of our food, and art is the source of our nourishment?

Sherrie Levine runs through April 2nd at David Zwirner’s 20th Street gallery space in New York City.