Sherrie Levine is happy to take whatever she feels she wants from well-known male forerunners, and through a process of emulation erase the ‘aura’ of the unique artwork. Appropriation artists, often defined as neo-conceptual, recycle mass-produced consumer wares and images. Although object-based art reaches back to Duchamp’s ‘readymades’, this mode of production has less to do with the definition of art – what art actually is – (and it is already received wisdom that artists can make art of everyday objects), but more with a symbolic dimension associated with familiar artefacts and images. Here it is the objects and pictures which, by means of widespread connotations and associations, inaugurate narratives that verify and expose our ambivalent hold on reality.
Richard Prince decided to work with the popular Marlboro ad, but rather than zooming in on the cigarette-smoking aspect, he elevates to mythological status the cowboy (one of the central figures of American mythology: macho, self-sufficient, battling alone against the odds), the horse and the plot. Jeff Koons raises famous mass culture personalities to the level of art; Charles Ray, in contrast, attaches his own genitalia to a mannequin, questioning the connection between reality and representation, the rarefied reality of the viewer and the artist. The public meets in this exhibition an everyday aesthetic which no longer is the pure, sublime formal aesthetic of old, but which engages urgently with content, temporality, memory (personal and collective), commercialism and consumerism, and, not least, social commentary.