Sturtevant - 20th Century and Contemporary Art Evening Sale New York Thursday, July 2, 2020 | Phillips

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  • In Short


  • Spotlight

    In Stella Gran Cairo, Sturtevant reimagines Frank Stella’s tour de force with arresting exactitude, capturing the vivid concentric squares of Gran Cairo, 1962, Whitney Museum of American Art, New York. Executed just a couple years after her return from a decade-long hiatus from making art, Stella Gran Cairo exemplifies the conceptual nature of Sturtevant’s practice that baffled critics during the first half of her career.

    A descendant of the 20th century art historical genealogy of appropriation art, which was initiated by the ready-mades of Marcel Duchamp—whose work asked viewers what art should be and how it should look—Sturtevant was closely associated with and used as source material works from her fellow mid-century appropriators, including Andy Warhol, Jasper Johns, and, of course, Stella. Tracking down and using the same paint he used in the early 1960s—even though it had been discontinued in the 1980s— Stella  Gran Cairo exploits the supposed individual genius present in contemporaneous masterpieces, accentuating that despite the work’s meticulous likeness to Stella’s, “there’s no force there to make it exactly like” a Stella, she elucidated. “Quite the opposite—the characteristic force is lacking.”[i] 

    Stella Gran Cairo impels us to consider: what is the true essence of a Stella work, the quality that makes a Stella a Stella?



    Frank Stella, Gran Cairo, 1962. Whitney Museum of American Art, New York, Artwork © 2020 Frank Stella / Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York

    Raising further inquiries into conventional notions of authenticity is her process; she chiefly worked from careful memory, aspiring not to produce exact replicas but rather to execute originals that challenged post-Dada understandings of the mythologized and mystical power of the artist’s hand. Though Sturtevant never asked artists for permission before recreating works, their admiration of her logic was implied considering that Warhol once lent her his silkscreens so that she could easily re-envision his Flowers. 

    “The brutal truth of the work is that it is not a copy. The push and shove of the work is the leap from image to concept. The dynamics of the work is that it throws out representation” – Sturtevant

    Stella’s early Minimalist work, such as Gran Cairo, was critically acclaimed, and many publicly mourned when Stella moved on to explore different pictorial inquiries, a path which led him to his later “maximalist” works. Sturtevant’s re-interpretation of a Minimalist painting by the artist thus hints at the art world’s desire for him to repeat his former style in a manner reminiscent of Giorgio de Chirico, who replicated his early paintings during the last years of his career. “It is as if she were asking, which is the ‘real’ Stella, the ‘true’ version? Put differently, why should Stella have been expected to reproduce his early work and not develop, for better or worse, his aesthetic?” art historian Patricia Lee asked. “Sturtevant addressed the demand on an artist to reify the style the public expects from him or her.”[ii]

    From re-conceptualizing Stella’s chef-d’oeuvre to using Pop Art’s predilection for appropriation against itself in her versions of Warhol’s iconic imagery, Sturtevant is credited with launching a new era of art exploring queries of authorship and originality. Curator Peter Eleey expounded, “by faking faking, she showed that she was not a copyist, plagiarist, parodist, forger, or imitator, but was rather a kind of actionist, who adopted style as her medium in order to investigate aspects of art’s making, circulation, consumption, and canonization.”[ii]

    [i] Sturtevant, quoted in “Sturtevant, with Peter Halley,” Index Magazine, September/October 2005, p. 48.
    [ii] Patricia Lee, Sturtevant: Warhol Marilyn, Cambridge, MA, 2016, p. 24.
    [ii] Peter Eleey, Sturtevant: Double Trouble, exh. cat., The Museum of Modern Art, New York, 2014, p. 50.
  • Sturtevant's Re-interpretations

    • Provenance

      Bess Cutler Gallery, New York
      Acquired from the above by the present owner in January 1989

    • Exhibited

      New York, Scott Hanson Gallery, Complexity and Contradiction, September 17 - October 15, 1988, n.p. (illustrated)

    • Literature

      Bruce Hainley, "Erase and Rewind", Frieze, 53, June - August 2000, pp. 82-84, 86-87 (illustrated, p. 85)
      Sturtevant, exh. cat., Württembergischer Kunstverein, Stuttgart, 1992, p. 89 (illustrated)
      Lena Maculan, ed., Sturtevant: Catalogue Raisonné 1964-2004, Ostfildern-Ruit, 2004, no. 197, p. 96 (illustrated; erroneous dimensions listed)

    • Artist Biography


      Elaine Sturtevant, known professionally as Sturtevant, was an American artist whose practice considered issues of authorship, authenticity, and the nature of reproduction. Her carefully inexact recreations, referred to as “repetitions,” of the work of her contemporaries attracted almost immediate attention as Sturtevant embarked on this practice in 1964, copying the work of fellow artists and friends like Andy Warhol, Frank Stella, and Roy Lichtenstein. Sturtevant mastered several artforms including painting, sculpture, photography, and film in order to faithfully repeat the work of her contemporaries, continually updating her process in order to keep pace with the changing tides of the avant-garde. Many of the artists Sturtevant repeated, often before they became famous, would later be considered the iconic artists of their respective movements and generations. Her late work is concerned with reproduction and repetition in the digital world.  

      Sturtevant’s work has attracted simultaneous acclaim and criticism for its close copying of the work of other artists. Her work has been praised as innovative and insightful, and the artist has been the subject of major retrospectives at institutions such as the Museum für Moderne Kunst, Frankfurt, the Serpentine Galleries, London, the Museum of Modern Art, New York, and the Musée d’Art Moderne, Paris. Sturtevant received the Golden Lion at the 2011 Venice Biennale for lifetime achievement. She died in 2014 in Paris, where she had been living and working since the 1990s. 

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Property from a Distinguished Midwestern Collection


Stella Gran Cairo

signed, titled and dated ""STELLA GRAND CAIRO" Sturtevant '88" on the overlap
alkyd on canvas
85 3/8 x 85 1/2 in. (216.9 x 217.2 cm)
Painted in 1988.

Full Cataloguing

$400,000 - 600,000 

Sold for $620,000

Contact Specialist

Amanda Lo Iacono
Head of Evening Sale
New York
+1 212 940 1278

20th Century and Contemporary Art Evening Sale

New York Auction 2 July 2020