In this series, artists choose portraits that inspire them from Human Interest: Portraits from the Whitney’s Collection. In 1966, the artist Sturtevant created a photograph directly inspired by Man Ray, casting herself as the subject. Here, K8 Hardy reflects on the photograph as both playful and provocative.
My name is K8 Hardy, and we’re at the Whitney Museum looking at this photo by Sturtevant. It’s a small moment. You know, you have to spend some time with it. Initially, the playfulness of the photo—of having the shaving cream all over her face—drew me to this work, to the photo, without knowing exactly what the copy was. Sturtevant is copying a photo of Duchamp by Man Ray, almost exactly: at the same angle, her face is looking in the same direction, they both have shaving cream all over their face. This copy is very close to the original. As literal as she could get.
When I was doing self-portraits, I was insistent on saying, “It’s not a self-portrait. It’s a photo, and I’m using myself.” But I mean, as time passes, I’m more willing to call them self-portraits. I used my own body because the politics are a lot tighter, and you’re not representing someone or othering them. She just needed to get the photo taken, and she didn’t hire a professional. She’s using her own body; it’s just the nearest tool to getting it done. It’s just the fastest way.
She was totally ahead of her time. When I was thinking about this photo, I was thinking about the meme and how popular that is now. I mean, we also have the ability to copy and reproduce images to an infinity. And that wasn’t necessarily true when Sturtevant did this. There’s the idea that art is about doing something that no one has ever done before, or being an original. But she’s taking works that were masterpieces or guys that were considered masters of their art, and by copying it she’s questioning the genius that it took to make that piece, and she’s proving that she can make it herself. It’s a question of reception and intention. And it’s provocative.