Sturtevant's "Double Trouble"

The Double Trouble show at the MoMA exhibited the works of Elaine Sturtevant (hereafter referred to by her preferred name, “Sturtevant”), who recently passed away this past May. Throughout the exhibition space, viewers are inundated with the familiarity of images of some of the most iconic works of the 20th century — yet slightly altered. The dissonant space between such familiar recognition and the very carefully calculated premeditation of the foreign form — what she referred to as “vertigo”— is what I personally arresting about the most successful “repeats.”

The epistemological issues that the works bring to mind are perplexing, and are daunting in their perplexity: namely, her work rehashes the Duchamp-age claims of representative objects as autonomous pieces in themselves in a more layered and self-referential method. Other considerations to ponder are the nature of mimetic exercises as fine art, harkening back to the principles of Greek classicism. More poignantly, however, the work presents a dialogue of the female artist appropriating the works of some of the most seminal male artists of her time. Sturtevant’s oeuvre seems to extend from a staunch social objective to stake her claim as an individual and as a feminist artist. Born Elaine Horan in 1924, the artist married a man named Ira Sturtevant and adopted his last name. Upon their divorce, she became a professional artist, dropped her first name and maintained only her last name — perhaps as an act of usurping the traditionally male claim to the surname, reflecting her similar treatment of male-produced artworks.

Nonetheless, what is particularly impressive about the curatorial forethought of the exhibition is the circumspection with which the works were spatially arranged within the gallery based on the museum’s own permanent collection — choices that inevitably augment the viewer’s destabilized sense of familiarity. For example, the highly graphic Warhol Cow Paper (1996) piece that greets viewers immediately upon entrance to the gallery space mimics the imagery of the original wallpaper by Andy Warhol that lines the MoMA’s Education and Research Building. Moreover, many of the reworks presented in the third floor gallery exhibition are echoes of works present in the museum just one level above in the 20th century galleries, such as Johns Target with Four Faces(1986) and Johns Flag above White Ground (1967-68), based on original works by the artist Jasper Johns.