New York

Sherrie Levine

Mary Boone Gallery | Uptown

For her recent foray into sculpture, Sherrie Levine takes Marcel Duchamp’s The Bride Stripped Bare by Her Bachelors, Even, 1915–23, as her model. Ostensibly fulfilling Duchamp’s original intention, Levine has the bachelors cast three-dimensionally in frosted glass. The resultant objects, reminiscent of Art Decoor industrial lighting fixtures, are then displayed in tony cherry-wood vitrines. The gallery lights are dimmed and the frosted glass bachelors, spotlit from above, give off a dull luminescence, the barest of scintillations. The entire installation suggests a jewelry store after closing, once the baubles have been removed from the cases.

Levine’s attitude toward her sources is typically pitched somewhere between admiration and spite. Borrowing from the Dadaist chessmaster, Levine simply acknowledges the enormous effect of his reservoir of poses on her own practice. At the same time, perhaps playing the “bride” in her scenario, Levine recasts Duchamp’s work in a setting of stereotypically feminine commodity-obsession: the jewelry store. Her installation is the hyperestheticization of Duchamp as gelid luxe, the reification of desire as vacuity. One longs for the bijoux that might have adorned the glass stands.

In the past Levine has spoken of making her work because she loves it, because of the pleasure it gives her. She describes being drawn to male Modernist masters, but being uncomfortable with the identification because she remained necessarily the female outsider. Is her supplement to Duchampher “completion” of his work—a labor of love, the realization of a dead genius’ plans, or is it just flogging a dead horse? Levine’s previous appropriations from Edward Weston, Walker Evans, Egon Schiele, and Kasimir Malevich, among others, constituted a sort of transvestism, and the meaning of those works was precisely their “perversion.” (One recalls Duchamp’s own drag persona, Rrose Sélavy.) But Levine doesn’t impersonate Duchamp as much as “channel” his artistic spirit, rather like a Shirley MacLaine of post-Modernism.

Duchamp’s favorite game continues in the gallery’s back room, where Levine showed four of her (now rectangular) chessboard paintings. They are among the artist’s most delicately personal works. The rigid authority of geometric abstraction is pulverized, as Levine presents another parody of “feminine” disorder; the paintings—weak, neurotic, hysteric—seem on the verge of self-annihilation through implosion. These works indulge heavily in the mythos of the artist’s hand. Indeed, the uncertainties of line, brushstroke, and color provide plenty of what used to be characterized as esthetic experience. Levine reifies the individual authorial touch, that imprimatur of expressivity which is historically the antithesis of geometric abstraction’s goals.

It is easy to mistake this kind of work for the trembling retro-chic of Sean Scully. But Levine succeeds provisionally where artists like Scully fail because of an attitude of insincerity that allows her to have it both ways; she fashions grid paintings that are at once utterly generic, yet reeking of the painterly incidents and accidents that are the tired signifiers for individual subjectivity.Levine’s victory remains necessarily pyrrhic.

David Rimanelli