Johns Painting With Two Balls

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  • Condition Report

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  • Provenance

    Stefan Stux, New York
    Bess Cutler Gallery, New York
    Acquired from the above by the present owner in May 1988

  • Exhibited

    New York, Stux Gallery, Sturtevant, 1987, n.p. (illustrated)
    Württembergischer Kunstverein Stuttgart; Deichtorhallen Hamburg; Villa Arson Nice, STURTEVANT, June 25, 1992 - March 27, 1993, p. 81 (illustrated)

  • Literature

    Roberta Smith, "Art: Sigmar Polke's Witty Disappearing Act", The New York Times, November 6, 1987, p. 32
    John Waters and Bruce Hainley, Art - A Sex Book, New York, 2003, pp. 18, 20, 203 (illustrated, p. 21)
    Lena Maculan, ed., Sturtevant: Catalogue Raisonné 1964-2004, Ostfildern-Ruit, 2004, no. 31, p. 52 (illustrated)

  • Video

    Sturtevant, 'Johns Painting With Two Balls', Lot 3

    20th Century & Contemporary Art Evening Sale, 14 October

  • Catalogue Essay

    “I make reproductions in order to confront, in order to trigger thinking” – Sturtevant

    In Johns Painting with Two Balls, 1987, Sturtevant reimagines Jasper Johns’s tour de force with arresting precision, capturing the vivid, brimming expanse and the anatomically tongue-in-cheek spheres of Painting with Two Balls, 1960, Collection of Jasper Johns. Executed one year after her return from a decade-long hiatus from making art, Johns Painting with Two Balls 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, Roy Lichtenstein, and, of course, Johns. Since producing her first Johns Flag in 1965, the artist created at least 45 versions of works by her dear friend, betraying a specific, career-long preoccupation with his oeuvre. Using the same materials and practices as he did, Johns Painting with Two Balls exploits the supposed individual genius present in contemporaneous masterpieces, accentuating that despite the work’s meticulous likeness to Johns’s, “there’s no force there to make it exactly like a Johns. Quite the opposite—the characteristic force is lacking” (Sturtevant, quoted in “Sturtevant, with Peter Halley”, Index Magazine, September/October 2005, p. 48).

    When selecting pieces to reinterpret, Sturtevant would look for ones that were “immediately recognizable” because “you have to know it’s a Johns,” Sturtevant explained, “for the work to function” (Sturtevant, quoted in Bill Arning, “Sturtevant”, Journal of Contemporary Art, vol. 2, no. 2, Fall/Winter 1989, p. 41). However, when scouring for these instantly identifiable images, she did not revisit the masterpieces of the distant past but instead selected works from the previous few decades, scrutinizing the objects in the interim between their completion and their sanctification into the canon of art history. By interceding during this indeterminate period, Sturtevant obliged the viewer to contemplate the authorship and ostensible irreplicability of the works that would be framed as the paragons of 20th century art. “Although she can reproduce a painting to the line,” Douglas David elucidated, “these works are not really copies. Their intent is to seize upon iconic ideas and images now at large in the world and use them as though they were common, not private, property” (Douglas David, “Country Art and City Art”, Newsweek, March 11, 1974, p. 91).

    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 reenvision his Flowers, and that Johns owns multiple of her pieces. In fact, when one of Johns’s flag paintings that was an element of Robert Rauschenberg’s combine, Short Circuit, 1955, Art Institute of Chicago, was purloined, Rauschenberg commissioned a rendering of it from Sturtevant. “The brutal truth of the work is that it is not a copy,” she asserted. “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, quoted in Sturtevant: The Brutal Truth, exh. cat., Museum für Moderne Kunst, Frankfurt, 2004, p. 19). Johns Painting with Two Balls impels us to consider the Duchamp-ian question: what is the true essence of a Johns work, the quality that makes a Johns a Johns?

    When Johns created Painting with Two Balls, Abstract Expressionism was still present but losing steam as Pop Art was expected to supersede it to become the prevailing movement in the New York art scene. Typically considered a masculine enterprise, Abstract Expressionism bemused Johns, a reserved man who had little regard for its brazen machismo and “ballsy” disciples who believed that their philosophical rationalizations and vigorous gestural brushwork somehow evinced their manhood. With his unabating propensity to satire, Johns approached the surface of Painting with Two Balls with a mocking vitality and tauntingly vibrant palette before inserting the overt anatomical reference between the top two panels. Adding a new layer of complexity to this dialogue, Sturtevant’s version was executed almost thirty years after Johns’s parody of the hypermasculinity of Abstract Expressionism, an interval which saw the rise and apex of second-wave feminism. Sturtevant—who stopped using her first name, Elaine, in order to obfuscate her sex—must have been all too aware of the gender dynamics of the art world as a woman reinterpreting pieces by better-known male artists. Despite her vehement resistance to being pigeonholed as a “feminist artist,” Johns Painting with Two Balls adds a second, self-referential dimension to Johns’s critique of modernism as a manly pursuit.

    “In some ways, style is her medium,” the curator of Sturtevant’s 2014-2015 retrospective at The Museum of Modern Art, New York, Peter Eleey, espoused. “She was the first postmodern artist — before the fact — and also the last” (Peter Eleey, quoted in Margalit Fox, “Elaine Sturtevant, Who Borrowed Others’ Work Artfully, Is Dead at 89”, The New York Times, May 16, 2014, online). Indeed, from reconceptualizing a close friend’s chef-d’oeuvre in Johns Painting with Two Balls 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. Eleely further 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” (Peter Eleey, Sturtevant: Double Trouble, exh. cat., The Museum of Modern Art, New York, 2014, p. 50).

3

Property from a Distinguished Midwestern Collection

Johns Painting With Two Balls

stenciled with artist's name and title and dated "PAINTING WITH TWO BALLS 1987 STURTEVANT" lower edge; further signed, titled and dated ““JOHNS PAINTING WITH TWO BALLS" e. sturtevant '87" on the reverse
encaustic and paper collage on 3 joined canvases with metal brackets and 2 balls
65 x 54 1/8 in. (165.1 x 137.5 cm.)
Executed in 1987.

Estimate
$500,000 - 700,000 

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Contact Specialist

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

20th Century & Contemporary Art Evening Sale

New York Auction 14 November 2019