Sturtevant’s “Torres Untitleds”

I’ve been thinking about the works Sturtevant made of Felix Gonzalez-Torres’ works lately, and noticed this spread in the catalogue for her 2004 exhibition at the MMK Frankfurt. It’s called a catalogue raisonné, but maybe that was to subvert the idea of a catalogue raisonné. This notebook page feels a little more reliable, and yet.

It’s not clear when this was written, but the continuity of the pen makes me think it was after 1997, when her (Blood) bead curtain was shown at Ropac. Some of the artist’s notebook pages reproduced contain sketches, as if the work was not realized yet. This page, neatly laying out two works, feels like a transcription from other, less formalized sources. A lot of the objects’ details have been worked out, and this is how future exhibitions and sales will be recorded. A CR in progress.

A lot of details, but not all. It’s interesting to see what Sturtevant needs to repeat, and what she does not. Here, for example, she was still working through the titles. Here these works are called “Torres Untitled” (Something in parentheses, whether it’s Go-Go ^Dancing Platform or Blood). As it happens, I’d just been reading Tino Sehgal and Andrea Rosen’s conversation in the Specific Objects Without Specific Form exhibition catalogue, and Andrea spoke at length about the specificity of Felix’s “Untitled in Quote” (Something in parentheses) title format. Sturtevant seems to have considered it, maybe even used it for a while, before going with her own format: Gonzalez-Torres Untitled (Go-Go Dancing Platform).

And “1994-95.” [FWIW, this was published as 1995 in 2004.] I don’t know how it only just occurred to me that Sturtevant was making these works while they were being shown in Gonzalez-Torres’ retrospective at the Hirshhorn, MOCA, and Guggenheim.

[Morning after UPDATE: That e-flux link discusses how “Untitled” (Blood) was shown at the Hirshhorn in 1994, but I wonder if it’s more relevant that it was also shown in Paris, where Sturtevant lived, at the Musée d’Art Moderne, in 1995-96. The go-go dancing platform was most definitely not shown at the Hirshhorn, though it’d be wild to imagine Jesse Helms busting in on it seconds after the dancer left. Interestingly, artist Pierre Bal-Blanc, who made a #GRWM work about being a dancer on the platform in 1992, said in 2020 that he discussed it and performance with Sturtevant in 1992. Ofc, thanks to Bruce Hainley’s digging, it was long known by 2020 that Sturtevant did performance work in the 1960s, and specifically dance, so it’d be interesting to know more of what Sturtevant said about it in 1992.]

Better Read #039: Sturtevant at Tate Modern, 2007

I looked at the episode numbers and thought it must be a mistake, but no, there hasn’t been a Better Read since 2021. But I’ve used a Sturtevant text before, in a way; in 2016, I had a computer read several pages of Spinoza’s Ethica, a text Sturtevant included in Vertical Nomad, which she showed at Anthony Reynolds Gallery in 2008.

This is closer to Sturtevant’s Ethica. It is a presentation she made in 2007 at Inherent Vice, a workshop at Tate Modern on the subject and implications of the replica to contemporary art.

Download Better_Read_039_Sturtevant_Tate_20230709.mp3 [, mp3, 6.4mb, 6:42]

Sturtevant Simulacra, 2013

Sturtevant, Simulacra, 2010, single channel 16:9 video, installation view at Matthew Marks, 2022

A 16:9 iStockvideo of a horned owl was one of many found clips of animals and athletes Sturtevant used in her later works. The video clip shows up in Simulacra (2010), which was seen most recently last fall in the Sturtevant show at Matthew Marks.

Installation view from Sturtevant: Memes, at Freedman Fitzpatrick, 2019, via CAD

It was included in the first show of Sturtevant’s video work in LA, in 2019 at Freedman Fitzpatrick, called, alas, Sturtevant: Memes.

installation view of Sturtevant: Double Trouble, 2014-15, at MoMA

Sturtevant used a screencap of the image as Warhol-style wallpaper in Double Trouble, her retrospective at MoMA in 2014-15, which opened a few months after her death. [At MoMA, it was actually preceded by a wall of Warhol cow wallpaper.]

installation view of Rock & Roll Simulacra, Act 3 (2013) in Leaps Jumps & Bumps, 2013 at the Serpentine Galleries, image: Jerry Hardman-Jones

And before that it was in both video and wallpaper for Leaps Jumps & Bumps at the Serpentine, the last show of her work to open during her lifetime. The aspect ratio seemed important, or intrinsic, a characteristic of the age and the system of media we were all soaking in.

Sturtevant, Rock & Roll Simulacra, Act 3, 2013, 18×32 cm, inkjet on paper, ed. 250, via Serpentine Galleries

Sturtevant also published a screencap from the video as a fundraising edition for the Serpentine. The 16:9 image was printed at 18×32 cm on a piece of paper whose stated size, 39.3 x 53.5 cm, is well within the margin of error of 4:3, video’s old aspect ratio. Sturtevant was not one for nostalgia, though, so I imagine that dimension is coincidental. Anyway, back in the day, when I tried to buy one of the prints from the Serpentine, they said the artist had not been well enough to sign but a few of the intended edition, and their stock had run out.

HD 1080i PAL Owl (Close Up), 2007, by webclipmaker, via istockphoto

At various points since, I’ve looked for the iStockvideo clip Sturtevant used. Thanks to corporate rebranding the watermark was replaced with “iStock by Getty Images.” So hers has now become an artifact of the very system she was laying bare. [Next morning update: on the other hand, you can recreate it with a $60 license and After Effects. She was still right, though.]

Tiny Oldenburg Store Objects, Bacon & Butter

Lot 171: Sturtevant, Oldenburg Store Objects, Bacon & Pat of Butter, 1967, being sold at Swann

I lost track of the Schwartzes selling Sturtevant’s Oldenburg Store Object, Pie Case amidst the Pompon hype. It was one of the most prominent objects from Sturtevant’s April-til-June 1967 repetition of Oldenburg’s The Store, and it was being sold by some of the most important collectors of Sturtevant’s work. [Eugene organized the 1986 Sturtevant comeback show at White Columns that brought her work into the context of the appropriationist Pictures Generation.

Sturtevant, Oldenburg Store Object, Pie Case, 1967, from the Barbara and Eugene Schwartz Collection, sold at Sotheby’s 19 May 2023
Continue reading “Tiny Oldenburg Store Objects, Bacon & Butter”

Jasper Johns Painting With Four Stolen Balls

Palle di Venezia, 1964

Trying to trace the whereabouts of Jasper Johns’ 1960 Painting With Two Balls around 1987, when Sturtevant made her Johns Painting With Two Balls, I note that it was reproduced in color in Michael Crichton’s catalogue for Johns’ 1977 Whitney Museum retrospective.

From the notes in the Jasper Johns Catalogue Raisonée, I see that the painting has been on loan to the Philadelphia Museum of Art, beginning March 1979.

Also, that some of the collage pieces date from December 1959.

Also, the construction is as follows: “four mending braces are attached to the canvas with screws, and a strip of wood runs under the bottom edge of the painting.” [Sturtevant’s version has no such strip.]


When the painting returned from a traveling exhibition in November 1962, the original balls were missing and had to be replaced.

That exhibition, 4 Americans: Jasper Johns, Alfred Leslie, Robert Rauschenberg, Richard Stankiewicz, traveled from the Moderna Museet to the Stedelijk to the Kunsthalle Bern, presumably went off without incident until the end. Presumably, the artist made the replacement balls.

The second set was later stolen while the painting was on view at the Venice Biennale in 1964. According to the artist, the balls were replaced again and paint was applied to them with his approval.

So these balls were handled by Italians. They are, in fact, Italian balls. Palle di Venezia. Meanwhile, four of Jasper Johns’ balls are on the loose, last known location: someone’s pockets in Europe. Keep an eye out, I guess.

Sturtevant’s Johns Painting With Two Balls

Sturtevant, Johns Painting With Two Balls, 1987, verso, image via Christie’s

If you were thinking we just saw Sturtevant’s Johns Painting With Two Balls at auction, you were right. Gerald Finberg bought the 1987 work in late 2019 at Phillips, and, I assume, had a couple of great years with it.

Now it’s on the rebound at Christie’s, who spice things up a bit by letting us hit it from the back. The three panel construction and the tapered cross bars are clearly visible and—presumably—like Johns’ 1960 original.

Lot 40C: Sturtevant, Johns Painting With Two Balls, 1987, 165 x 137.5 cm, in the Gerald Fineberg sale at Christie’s

The higher-res images also help make legible some of the fragments of the International Herald Tribune Sturtevant used (from April 23, 1987 at least, when the Stanley Cup was also underway) as she painted this thing in Paris[?].

Jasper Johns, Painting With Two Balls, 1960, 165 x 137.5 cm, collection of the artist, image ganked from Beach Packaging Design

The way we understand Sturtevant’s practice is that she repeated works but didn’t reproduce them, painting from the image in her mind, if not exactly “memory.” But the placement, shape, and even the layering of the brushstroke knots here makes me suspect that’s not how Two Balls went down. I think she used a color image for reference, and maybe even projected it. This is a stroke-for-stroke remake—a drip-for-drip remake, even—which feels categorically different from Sturtevant’s other projects [or at least how they’re presented and understood.]

It feels like there’s a Rauschenberg Factum reference here I can’t quite tease out. It’s not just as if two different people made Factum I and Factum II. It’s two different people made paintings with two balls, 27 years apart, and both of them were there when Rauschenberg made the Factums in the first place. But only one made this comparison possible, decades later, and that’s Sturtevant.

17 May 2023, Lot 40C: Sturtevant, Johns Painting With Two Balls, 1987, est. $500-700k [update: sold for $700k hammer, $882,000 total][christies]
2019 Auction listing at Phillips, where it sold for $680,000 [phillips]
Peter Halley interviewing Sturtevant in 2005 [indexmagazine]

Sturtevant Johns Flag Photobomb

in the Chicago Sun Times photo: Doug Gauman for the Decatur Herald, but reproduced by AP in the Chicago Sun-Times, all via the American Federation of Arts collection at the Archives of American Art via @br_tton

In early March 1969, a sculpture by Marc Morrel of a pillow made of US flags hanging in chains brought the cops to the Decatur Arts Center in central Illinois. The director and president of the board were charged with flag desecration, and the work was confiscated.

The traveling group show, titled, “Patriotic Images in American Art,” was organized by Elizabeth C. Baker, managing editor of Art News Magazine, for the American Federation of Arts, and had been shown in previous venues around the country without incident. @br_tton tweeted the story after finding it in the AFA’s files at the Archives for American Art.

The two men fought the charges as unconstitutional restriction of free speech, but it would be twenty years before another artist, Dread Scott, could get enough judges to agree. But that’s another story.

Because just look at Doug Gauman’s photo for the Decatur Herald’s feature on the exhibition, showing a man looking at “Flag in Chains”: doesn’t that flag in the background look like a Jasper Johns?

And so it should. The AAA file doesn’t have a checklist of the show, but the Herald’s story mentions the title of the 48-star throwback: “Jasper Johns Flag for 7th Ave. Garment Rack.” That Johns flag is by Elaine Sturtevant.

Sturtevant’s 1965 Bianchini Gallery exhibition, featuring 7th Avenue Garment Rack With Andy Warhol Flowers

I don’t have her CR handy, but until now this has been the only image of the works in this show, her first, at the Bianchini Gallery (later the site of Ubu Gallery on East 78th St). But it sounds like this Johns Flag went on a nationwide tour, extended title and all. Now on the internet, for the first time ever!