A Study of Sherrie Levine's Rephotography
In the late 1970's, art historians began to discuss photography using diverse theoretical paradigms. Theoreticians associated with October magazine, greatly influenced by poststructuralism, recognized that photography can subvert modern art and emphasized its function. Their position is consonant with photography criticism in the late 1980's that called into question the definition of photogra phy as modern art during the 1950's and 1960's. Such photography was later reappraised and has even been credited with overcoming the economic recession of the art world during the 1970's. However, it is an insular category that neglects the multiplicity of photographic practice.
My thesis is a study of Sherrie Levine's rephotography, a technique whereby the artist photographs reproductions of the art works of modern masters and then shows the photographs as her own work. I examine the reasons why Levine's Rephotography, as a work of appropriation, constitutes postmodern art.
First, I acknowledge that Levine's rephotography demonstrates the collapse of modern aesthetics. Originality and authorship are both the motives and the tenets of art in the modern era, but Levine posits that an original work cannot exist in the artwork fundamentally. Levine's position has its historical roots in Marcel Duchamp's Readymade, the Dada practice of collage and montage, and in Pop Art's mass media images. She utilizes a recycling of existing photographic images and asserts that the originality of artwork is not an essential element of the form. Levine's rephotograph y announces "the death of the artist". The concept of "the death of the author" developed from poststructuralism, which addresses the notion of an autonomous subject. Levine's rephotography works refute the romantic concept of the individual artist as having a fixed character and place of origin. At the same time, her work emphasizes active viewing in order to create the meaning of the artwork.
Second, I examine Levine's rephotograph y as a resistance to a system that values the works of masters at the expense and exclusion of other artists. Western art history epitomizes the praise of man's desire and its results, so Levine's rephotography, which appropriates only the works of great modern male artists
and the images of "the Other" in their works, expresses how difficult it is to be a woman artist. Her rephotography deconstructs the tenets of modern art. It represents a break with modern photography rejecting photo graphy's traditional relationship to the outside world and criticizes the museum as an institution. Her rephotography exposes the concepts of original artwork and the personal artist, elements that form the basis of art museums, demonstrating that photography is complex, multi-layered, and central to discourses other than "art photography".
But, I consider whether the critical effect of rephotography is valid. Levine's appropriation of exclusively male artists' works represents "wo manliness as a masquerade". Her behavior may be interpreted as the use of famous names and works in order to gain recognition for herself. When Levine's work is treated by museums in the same manner as other postmodern art works, it enhances the value of the original work of art as well as becoming another original work itself Her work accommodates itself to the marketplace of art. We must conelude that the strategy of appropriation can hardly maintain its deconstructive and critical powers when it joins the mainstream of culture.