Sherrie Levine at David Zwirner
April 27 – July 21, 2023
One Saturday morning in late spring, this downtown critic took a trip uptown. In recent years, galleries with enough capital have returned to the Upper East Side to roost among the secondary showrooms of “modern masters”. In David Zwirner’s Selldorf refurbished townhouse — itself the prior host of Richard L. Feigen & Co — works of a post-modern master, Sherrie Levine, belied capture to their surroundings. The most recognizable hallmark was Fitz:1-12 (1994), deadstock shown for the first time. The cropped frown of a cartoon dog painted with black lines across 12 square cherry panel cels infers a rye cynic destined to perpetuity. Found in the storage bays and presented beside other artifacts, there is one stone work and three wood works, with the latter material lending itself to the exhibition’s title.
“Wood” is a useful ruse for considering Levine, who’s associated with the anti-medium of the readymade. A lowly cousin to bronze or marble in sculpture, wood typically furnishes, as here in the parquet floors and residual mantle of the gallery’s domestic origin. In front of the non-functioning fireplace stands Scholar Figure (2023) composed of burl wood, a phenomenon of undergrowth in trees resulting in extensive knotting. While Levine’s prior plywood works, candidly absent from the exhibition, hatched compositions from imperfections in standardization, the finely polished knots of Scholar Figure are ornate in and of themselves. A decadent woodiness of wood.
Head (2023) is a patinated and crudely chiseled stone reneging the exhibition’s medium-specific theme. An elongated nose bridges pierced eyes and pursed lips that might have once conjured “primitive” but on this morning evoked Brancusi, which is to say “modern.” In fact, it’s a New Guinean ceremonial piece purchased online. The reauthoring of non-Western artifact, already equated with others on view through exchange, produces a scenario where they are seen through the optics of already appropriated “difference.” Coordinated with this original operation of Western modernism is the fabrication of the medium condition. The paint-ness of paint expunges what it is not: figuration as carnal sin.
A third work from this year, Fox (2023) scrapes the figurative in offshoots of more burl wood. Forelegs branch from a torso that withers into the nub of a snout rendered in such limited moves as to announce the astute latency of form. The insistence of abstraction invited by a first read of the work is tacked by the Japanese origin of the object. The primitive, assimilated to the natural in modernism, is here drawn into non-genealogical contradistinction with Levine’s Duchampianism. The duplicitous nature of this objet trouvé, “found” twice or more, amounts to a cul-de-sac of culture-cum-text as flat as a page. The origin smothered by discourse more than displacement. We find her own early works as ripe for ready-re-making as the 1stDibs relics in a fruitful harvest on Madison Avenue.