NARRATOR: Welcome to SHERRIELEVINE: MAYHEM. In this exhibition you’ll see three decades of work, made between 1981 and 2010. Levine works in diverse media—photography, painting, and sculpture—but her most frequent material is art history itself. She reprises images and objects drawn from modern art. Perhaps the best-known example of this practice is After Walker Evans 1–22, on view nearby. It’s a suite of photographs taken by Walker Evans during the 1930s that Levine re-presented within the framework of her own art. In the exhibition you’ll also see her engagement with objects and images by Marcel Duchamp, Constantin Brancusi, Edgar Degas, and others.
JOHANNABURTON: She transforms these works.
NARRATOR: Johanna Burton is an art historian and critic.
JOHANNABURTON: She subtracts the images, taking them out of their existing contexts, so shaving away what we would think about as the framework, but then she also adds something to those works. It might not be visible, which has been a quite interesting problematic for viewers over the years. What is added? Is it desire? Is it a new framework? How is the material component changed?
NARRATOR: Museums are traditionally known for presenting art history as a coherent narrative. It is in this context that Levine’s work—sensuous and understated though it may be—creates Mayhem. An image might mean one thing in the nineteenth century, something different in the 1980s, and something else again today. By using existing imagery, Levine gives these transformations concrete form—raising questions about originality and authorship. And by recontextualizing that imagery, she often unearths ideologies and attitudes that may not have been apparent.
This exhibition is not organized as a retrospective. Levine’s selection of her work for this exhibition creates a conversation between the objects that unfolds as you move through the galleries.