Tasked with writing a review of the Sturtevant show at the Serpentine Gallery, I faced an unusual dilemma: which of the big, broadsheet write-ups to replicate, wholesale? If I were in a damning mood, for instance, I might repeat the Telegraph's Alastair Smart, whose weary assessment (it is "cruel that so many contemporary galleries promote art that appeals more to the expert in post-structuralist French philosophy than to the layman or aesthete") suggests a certain cynicism about the show; were I to parrot Searle, instead, whose Guardian write-up is characteristically wry ("You do wonder who, aside from Sturtevant, buys these things," he says, of the collection of rubber sex dolls in the show, "Please do not write in.") there would be a different outcome.
What I mean to say is that repetition and reproduction are the most appropriate means of speaking about Elaine Sturtevant. To whit: it is her practice, entire (or has been, certainly, throughout most of her career). To enter the show at the Serpentine, a viewer might believe themselves to be looking at, say, a work by Paul McCarthy, or one by Duchamp, only slightly off-kilter. It's easy to question the purpose of such wilful copy – why would we need to look at a simulacrum, when the real thing still exists?
Sturtevant, Dillinger Running Series, 2000, Video installation on rotating platform 26 min, looped; Courtesy of the artist and Serpentine Gallery.
Here is the thing, though: the idea of simply reproducing another, greater critic's review – an idea which began as a joke, and then slipped into a thing which hovered on the periphery of actual possibility – was absolutely thrilling to me, by the end. It is a jolt of total pleasure, sometimes, to prick at the status quo through the simplest and most postmodern of actions. There is something delightful, too, in the idea of replicating a piece by Andy Warhol; I imagine the mere proposal must have been electrifying to the bewigged soup-don-cum-downtown-painter. It's a perfect and logical continuation of Warhol's factory-line chic, and almost every review thus far has re-printed – Sturtevant-like – his canny deference to her expertise, when questioned as to the meaning of his work ("I don't know – ask Elaine" he is supposed to have quipped, the writing of which makes me complicit in the same exercise of ad nauseam copy).
"There are no new ideas on earth,” is the general message, here. I understand the purpose of her repetitions, and I understand, in particular, their significance in the post-credit, post-copyright age of the internet: that a Felix Gonzalez Torres is somehow both different from, and identical to, a copy of the original object; that presenting this copy allows us to question our feelings about the ideas of ownership, and of origin. Is an artwork meaningful because of the hands which made it?
Sturtevant, Foucault Fold, 2006; Photograph: Loren Muzzey.
And so – here is the most accurate and apt of all reviews I can imagine for Leaps, Jumps, And Bumps:
"LEAPS JUMPS AND BUMPS...showcase[s] Sturtevant's work since the 1970s, including core works that demonstrate the wide variety of media she has embraced. The exhibition will include the large-scale video work, Finite Infinite, 2010 and a piece comprising garlands of light bulbs, Gonzalez-Torres Untitled (America), 2004, an earlier version of which was shown at the Serpentine Gallery in 2000 in the Felix Gonzalez-Torres exhibition."
Want to know what it means? As Andy might say – you should ask Elaine.
(Image on top: Sturtevant, Installation view, STURTEVANT: LEAPS JUMPS AND BUMPS ; © 2013 Jerry Hardman-Jones.)