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Whitney Museum of American Art Opens Sherrie Levine: Mayhem

he Whitney Museum of American Art presents SHERRIE LEVINE: MAYHEM, the first major museum survey of the artist’s work. The exhibition is a project developed by the artist in collaboration with guest curator/art historian and critic Johanna Burton, and Elisabeth Sussman, Curator and Sondra Gilman Curator of Photography, with Carrie Springer, Senior Curatorial Assistant at the Whitney. The show runs from November 10, 2011, through January 29, 2012, in the Whitney’s third-floor Peter Norton Family Galleries.

Sherrie Levine (b. 1947), Crystal Skull, 2011. Cast glass, 5 1/2 × 7 × 4 1/2 in. (14 × 17.8 × 11.4 cm). Private collection; courtesy Jablonka Galerie, Cologne. © Sherrie Levine. Photograph by Davina Semo; image courtesy Paula Cooper Gallery, New York

For more than thirty years, Levine (b. 1947) has borrowed and re-contextualized images, texts, and objects in her work, often presenting them as installations that provide a compelling sense of context. The title of this exhibition, MAYHEM, suggests the destabilization that occurs as we consider the complex layers of reference and meaning that unfold between Levine’s sources and her own work.

“I don’t think it’s useful to see dominant culture as monolithic,” Levine has said. “I’d rather see it as polyphonic, with unconscious voices that may be at odds with one another. If I am attentive to these voices, then maybe I can collaborate with some of them to create something almost new.”
SHERRIE LEVINE: MAYHEM includes work from the early 1980s to the present in a wide array of media—photographs, prints, paintings, and sculpture. The work ranges from more well-known pieces, such as After Walker Evans (1981) and the dramatic sculptural installation La Fortune (After Man Ray) (1990), to lesser known paintings from the 1980s and 2000s and recent postcard collages and sculptural projects. Levine’s practice of using repetition, multiple images, and the pairing of objects will be incorporated into the installation, and will highlight the material and conceptual threads—such as notions of authorship and originality, questions of power and gender in representation, and the legacy of Modernism in contemporary art practice—that have resurfaced throughout her work over the past thirty years.

While not attempting to present a complete or strictly chronological overview of Levine’s practice, the show provides a rare opportunity to see the range and historical impact of her work over the span of her career. It also demonstrates the close tie that exists between the conceptual and rich material presence at play in Levine’s practice. The installation, conceived by the artist as offering constellations of older and newer works, provides juxtapositions that are intended to provoke new associations and responses. It aims, as well, to demonstrate Levine’s significant role in the history and understanding of artistic practices from the late 1970s to the present.

Levine stands at the forefront of a group of artists, including Cindy Sherman, Richard Prince, and Barbara Kruger, who began working in the late 1970s, at a time when the ever-increasing flood of photographic imagery, film, and advertising had altered the general scope of visual literacy within American culture. Their work reflects the significant shift that occurred in the distribution, perception, and use of representational images at that time. MAYHEM examines Levine’s innovative response to that development, and affirms the significant influence her work has had on contemporary artistic practice and on a new generation of artists who have come to see the borrowing, reframing, and transformation of imagery, objects, and ideas as second nature.

Sherrie Levine was born in Hazelton, Pennsylvania, grew up in St. Louis, and moved to New York in 1975. She has had one-person exhibitions at the Hirshhorn Museum, Washington D.C., 1988; the High Museum of Art, Atlanta, 1988; the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art, 1991; the Philadelphia Museum of Art, 1992; and Portikus, Frankfurt, 1994, among others. In 2005, she was one of the four artists included in Quartet, the opening exhibition of the new Walker Art Center in Minneapolis. Her work was included in Color Chart: Reinventing Color, 1950 to Today, at the Museum of Modern Art (2008). That same year she was part of the 2008 Whitney Biennial. The Kunstmuseum Krefeld, Germany, presented a one-person exhibition of Levine’s sculpture, Pairs and Posses, in early 2011.

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