The idea of appropriation, of taking images and transforming or re-contextualising them, has proved a powerful tool for artists, allowing them to reveal and challenge social and media narratives around, for example gender, sexuality and race. It is an approach that has pre-empted many of the issues and concerns surrounding today’s culture of mass production of manipulated images to be shared on social media.
As Richard Prince wrote of the appeal of appropriated images: “Even though the transformation reads as fiction, everybody knows that the source of the appropriation was at some point non-fiction, and it’s these sources, or elements of non-fiction, that gives the picture, no matter how questionable, its believable edge.”
Skarstedt’s exploration of the theme of appropriation and how it has been pursued by different generations features works by leading artists from the 1960s to the present day. It takes as its starting point Robert Heinecken’s series Are You Rea (1964–1968), and features also works by leading “Pictures Generation” artists, including Prince, Barbara Kruger and Louise Lawler, who came of age during the consumer culture of the late 1970s and early 1980s. Alongside these pioneering figures, the exhibition also showcases works by a younger generation, including Anne Collier, Roe Ethridge and Steven Shearer, whose interests reflect those of their predecessors, whilst also presenting their own unique take on appropriation.
The Are You Rea series blazed a trail in its use of magazines as a principal source material. Taken from more than 2,000 magazine pages over a period of four years, this set of photograms, or “camera-less” photographs, are direct contact prints culled from publications such as Life, Time and Woman’s Day. The superimposition of both sides of the page draws attention to the linguistic and visual strategies adopted by the commercial media.
The merger of language and text recurs in Kruger’s large-scale black and white photographs, overlaid with provocative captions in bold Futura type. Presented in the artist’s signature red enamel frame, works such as Untitled (Your Fact is Stranger than Fiction), (1983) draw upon Kruger’s own background as a magazine designer, adopting the same visual tools employed by the mass media in order to examine the cultural constructions of power, identity and sexuality.
Meanwhile, Hank Willis Thomas explores the objectification of African American male bodies in advertising campaigns in his B®anded series (2006). By appropriating advertising copy and superimposing a Nike swoosh onto the bodies of black men, he creates an explicit visual link with the branding of slaves by their owners. He also deconstructs magazine ads, digitally stripping out the logos and text, to reveal the underlying strategies and stereotypes at play.
Double Take, Skarstedt Gallery, London. Opens 7 March. For more information: www.skarstedt.com
1. Louise Lawler, Nude, 2002-2003. cibachrome print (museum mounted) 60 x 40 x 2 in. (152.4 x 101.6 x 5.1 cm.) This work is from an edition of five. Louise Lawler, courtesy of Metro Pictures, New York.