Body Mask

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  • Provenance

    Simon Lee Gallery, London
    Acquired from the above by the present owner

  • Exhibited

    New York, Whitney Museum of American Art, Whitney Biennial, 6 March - 1 June 2008, p. 169 (another example exhibited)
    London, Whitechapel Art Gallery, Keeping it real: An Exhibition in Four Acts. Act 1: The Corporeal, 10 June - 5 September 2010 (another example exhibited)
    Paris, La Maison Rouge, Les Recherches d'un Chien, 23 October 2010 - 16 January 2011 (another example exhibited)
    Paris, Gagosian Gallery, Ancestral Figure, 12 June - 28 July 2012

  • Catalogue Essay

    From a cycle of glistening polished bronze works cast after ceremonial masks from the Makonde of southeastern Tanzania, Sherrie Levine’s Body Mask is an appropriated homage to a forlorn and ritualistic tradition. Presented at the Whitney Biennial in 2008 as a series of repeating forms, the present work is a sculptural model of Levine’s inimitable and acclaimed appropriation technique.

    Celebrated for her appropriation of imagery, Levine rose to prominence amongst the Pictures Generation of the 1970s and 1980s together with Richard Prince and Barbara Kruger. Forging new meaning and content through deconstructing our assumed notions of perception, Levine has seized motifs from myriad sources, from photography, drawing, sculpture and painting. With work drawing upon the influence of Marcel Duchamp, Egon Schiele, Walker Evans and Claude Monet, Levine questions traditional means of authorship.

    Within their original cultural context, from the tradition of the Makonde, an ethnic group in southeast Tanzania and northern Mozambique, female body masks represented young pregnant women. Worn by male masqueraders alongside corresponding female face masks during initiation ceremonies, body masks are representative of gender and sexuality. Decontextualized by Levine, the present work cast in bronze, assumes luxurious and opulent connotations. Raising issues surrounding the relationship between the ritualistic and exhibitionist quality of masks and the cultural significance of replication, Levine interrogates the weight of assumed cultural associations.

    Heightening the dichotomy between the original and the cast, Levine strips the object of its ceremonial significance and presents it as an object of desire. With her polished and amplified rendition of the wooden original, Levine’s Body Mask re-writes the cultural memory ascribed to the object and interrogates our pre-conceived notions of perception and association. The juxtaposition of the materiality of the art object, against the ritualistic and organic wooden original, exacerbates the extravagance of Levine’s Body Mask and highlights the fetishistic culture of our consumer driven contemporary society. Contrasting the appropriated object with the finished artistic product ‘… Levine suggests that history is not linear but rather exists in, and by way of, relationships. The ways in which we see and understand things, regardless of their origin, depends not only on their surrounding context but also on our own individual contexts’ (Johanna Burton and Elisabeth Sussman, ‘Introduction’, in: exh. cat., New York, Whitney Museum of American Art, Sherrie Levine: MAYHEM, 2012, p. 14).

    Revisiting one of the most prominent subjects of her oeuvre, the work of Walker Evans, Levine’s recent 2014 series, African Masks After Walker Evans, displays a thematic affinity to the present work. The series, appropriating a vast collection of over 400 photographs of African art taken in 1935 by Evans, explores the influence of African masks in her distinguished work. In the present work Levine returns to the curatorial tenet of so-called ‘Primitive’ art and in turn questions the relationship of the Makonde tribe to the female figure and their ritualistic appropriation thereof.

    Displaying the rounded silhouette of a pregnant female form, Body Mask is awash with connotations of fertility and femaleness, presenting the viewer with The Origin of the World. Often appropriating works by prominent male artists from the twentieth century, Levine highlights the comparative absence of women in the doctrine of art history. By presenting the onlooker with a polished bronze rendering of the female form, Levine uses the body as a device to challenge gender tropes in the same way that Kruger’s infamous The Body is a Battleground confronts the objectification of women. In the present, overtly feminine, work the artist deconstructs the Makonde ritual of men assuming the female figure. Questioning the tribal arrogation of the female physique, Levine strips the object of its cultural weight.
    Through the vision of a commodity and object based society, Levine transforms the culturally weighted symbol into an exceptionally finished derivative artistic entity. Remodeling a fetishistic and ritualistic object into a different form of the same, this time for reasons of luxury and wealth as opposed to gender and fertility, the artist astutely repositions the object in the eye of the beholder. Body Mask is neither an exhausted muse, nor a contemporary quotation of Venus of Willendorf; it refuses a reductive reading for a more provocative narrative that uses fertility to elevate the female creative power.

29

Property from an Important Private European Collection

Body Mask

cast bronze
55.4 x 22.5 x 17 cm (21 3/4 x 8 7/8 x 6 3/4 in.)
Executed in 2007, this work is number 10 from an edition of 12.

Estimate
£300,000 - 400,000 

sold for £345,000

Contact Specialist
Henry Highley
Specialist, Head of Evening Sale
+ 44 20 7318 4061 hhighley@phillips.com

20th Century & Contemporary Art Evening Sale

London Auction 27 June 2018