Benjaminian Issue of Translation

Robert Longo Untitled (Gretchen) From the series “Men in the Cities” 1980

“In the very beginning, I was basically responding to images. I was making pictures of pictures. But now I’m much more of a searcher: I feel the images I want to make and I search them out; and if I can’t find them, I create them – I went to photograph the icebergs for example. I had a stroke four years ago, and, right before, I was taking pictures of trees in a park. Then I went to see a brain surgeon who showed me pictures of my brain, and it looked like my fucking trees! So these drawings of trees became drawings of my brain.
I try to buy the rights for images as often as possible, or get permission. For Guernica, I asked the Picasso Foundation if I could do it, and the only limitation it imposed was that I couldn’t make it the exact same size, so my piece is 5in (12.5cm) shorter. When I did the abstract expressionist show [Gangs of Cosmos, at Metro Pictures, New York in 2014], I didn’t think I would get permission. And everyone gave me permission: it was amazing!
I go to abstract expressionists a lot: the American civil war and abstract expressionism are, to me, the origins of my being American. Barnett Newman said this great thing, that he thought abstraction expressionists are representational artists working abstractly, and I think I’m an abstract artist working representationally.” [Robert Longo in conversation with Joe Lloyd]

Sherrie Levine After Egon Schiele 1982

“Levine seems to oppose attempts to stop or fix time. Not only the past’s future but also the past itself are revealed as false. Though dated “1917,” some of the works copied here are earlier: Schiele’s Male Nude (Self Portrait) II is a brush-and-ink lithograph from 1912; his Three Street Urchins dates from 1910. Whether the works are in the style of Malevich and Schiele or copies of actual works is unclear to me. After several hours of research, I could “verify” only two Schieles and none of the Malevichs, though some were merely left-right reversals of reproductions that I did find. And one “Schiele” may be a hybrid of an etching of Arthur Roessler and a typical Schiele anatomy. This hardly means that the originals do not exist, merely that the search was inconclusive. One hesitates to admit to ignorance, yet that is, I think, what the work wishes us to do. It’s a way of cleansing misconceptions. Levine perhaps uses “lies” to expose the lies of history.” [Jeanne Silverthorne on Sherrie Levine]

Robert Longo Untitled (After Krasner Birth 1956) 2014

“The work summons the history of appropriation art, from Elaine Sturtevant through Longo’s Pictures-generation peer Sherrie Levine and on, but in notes on this show and its companion at Petzel, the artist writes that his project “is not about appropriation—the AbEx show is meant as a love poem at its core.” I wouldn’t necessarily exclude love from the mimetic motives of an artist such as Levine, but it’s true that if on first view Longo’s drawings might seem to engage some Benjaminian issue of translation—to explore the changes in meaning embedded in the transfer from color to the gray scale, from pigmented medium to what Longo calls “dust”—I’m not sure that’s what’s really at stake. Not that those shifts aren’t beautifully worked out and handled—they are—and they’ve involved a translator’s extraordinary attention to the source. But a kind of manifest virtuosity has always been Longo’s trump, the quality of his art that you can almost take for granted, and that, surely, is part of what he in turn responds to in AbEx. “These paintings represent our Big Bang moment,” he writes, and the sentence implies a long Oedipal tale of ingestion and reproduction.” [David Frankel on Robert Longo]

Sherrie Levine Sherrie Levine After Kirchner from Meltdown 1989

“…imagine a digital approximation of a picture in which the computer interprets a tiny area to be a particular grade of gray or shade of color; the difference between the texture of this digitized image and that of film is that in the former these areas are stiffly rectangular “pixels” rather than blobby chemical grains. Higher resolution is gained by increasing the number of pixels per square inch until, in computer typesetting for example, the individual pixels are invisible to the naked eye. What Levine did was to reduce the number of pixels to twelve, so that large areas of canvas—swatches housing multiple colors, complicated forms, occasionally elaborate brushwork—are approximated in a single chunk of color, a sort of average of all the chromatic events occurring within the swatch. Working from a computer printout, Levine and her printers, Maurice Sanchez and James Miller, replicated this in the form of inked wooden blocks, bound together in a matrix, and printed them with masterful delicacy onto Korean Kojo paper. There is something undeniably winsome (and perhaps suspiciously cute) in this wedding of state-of-the-art technology to the ancient woodblock, that most Luddite of print media. The prints themselves—serene, abstract, vaguely oriental in texture, harshly contemporary in design—do little to suggest either high tech or their borrowed patrimony, or, for that matter, Levine’s other work….
(For Meltdown, the computer worked not from the actual paintings but from four Levine photographs of 1983: After Marcel DuchampAfter Piet MondrianAfter Ernst Ludwig Kirchner, and After Claude Monet.} These works were heralded as the definitive attack on—or mockery of—the modernist cult of “originality.” So definitive, so lucid did they seem on this point, that the issue of what constitutes originality and whether it is a necessary component of art seemed dead in the water.” [Susan Tallman on Sherrie Levine’s Meltdown Series]

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