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November 3 - December 7, 2008

Re-enactments, copies and tributes by Sherrie Wolf,
Brad Adkins, Christopher Rauschenberg and Michelle Ross

Two years ago, I got a phone call from Sherrie Wolf. She thought I might like to know that she had begun a project of copying Gustave Courbet's 1855 oil painting The Painter's Studio: Allegory of Seven Years of My Artistic and Moral Life. She planned to paint a full-scale copy of the 12 x 21 foot artwork, a massive undertaking. Perhaps I would be interested in showing it? Who wouldn't be! Besides the fun of having a giant copy of a major 19th-century masterpiece in The Art Gym, the project brought up the interesting issue of why artists copy other artists.

I decided to show Wolf's painting Courbet's Allegory alongside other works by artists who have re-enacted, re-photographed or copied the works of others.

Christopher Rauschenberg's Eugène Atget project came to mind immediately, as did a series of visual performance re-enactments by Brad Adkins. Then this summer Michelle Ross's Small Wild Things project came to my attention, for which Ross had invited 18 artists to successively copy a series of 15 of her abstract paintings on paper.

Wolf, Rauschenberg, Adkins and Ross chose to do these projects for varied reasons, including paying tribute to and learning from artists for whom they have great respect, bringing temporary artworks back into the world and setting experiments in motion in order to witness the results. Their motivations stand in contrast to the intentions of artists like Sherrie Levine who began to copy and appropriate works by other artists in the late 1970s to call attention to and challenge ideas of authorship and originality.

- Terri Hopkins, Director & Curator, The Art Gym

Sherrie Wolf is a painter who regularly combines imagery from old master paintings with her own. She describes Courbet's Allegory as a "study/reenactment." She writes that she decided "to render this work as accurately as possible, based on both reproductions and recollection, but with added personal commentary. There are references to other paintings within the painting, and to figures from Courbet's life and work. I deviated from the original by adding still more references to other paintings by Courbet, within the underlying structure of the composition, in playful but respectful homage to Courbet's creative process. For example, the black and white dog, added in the lower left, was portrayed by Courbet in two different paintings, The Quarry (1857) and Hunting Dogs (1858)."

Listen to Sherrie Wolf talk about her work

Christopher Rauschenberg, co-founder of Blue Sky Gallery in Portland, travels extensively. He considers the French artist Eugène Atget (1857-1927) to be "the greatest photographer of all time." Atget took pictures of Paris from 1888 until the end of his life creating an unequalled document of the city. Rauschenberg describes the beginning of his Atget rephotographic project: "On a 1989 trip to Paris, I suddenly found myself face to face with a spiral-topped gatepost that I knew very well from a beautiful photograph by Atget. I rephotographed his gatepost from memory and wondered how many other Atget subjects might still be holding their poses. There, among the things and places that Atget had admired, I resolved to return and do a rephotographic exploration to discover if the haunting and beautiful Paris of Atget's vision still existed. Eight years later, in 1997 and 1998, I made three trips to Paris and rephotographed 500 of the scenes that Atget photographed." As Rauschenberg pursued his project he "kept seeing places that he hadn't photographed but that seemed to me to be also rich with the feeling of his work." These pictures became his series, In Atget's Shoes. In 2007, Princeton Architectural Press published a book on Rauschenberg's tribute to Atget, Paris Changing: Revisiting Eugene Atget's Paris. The Art Gym will present more than 20 of the Atget project paired images and several pictures from In Atget's Shoes.

In 2006, inspired by the centuries-old Tantric tradition of monks hand copying abstract meditation drawings, Michelle Ross invited 18 artists to successively copy a series of 15 of her own abstract paintings on paper. As a part of the exhibition Homage, Ross will exhibit a selection of those paintings and her own copies of Tantric monk drawings. Nine Gallery (122 NW 8th Street, Portland) will exhibit the balance of the Small Wild Things series in November, giving visitors the opportunity to see the project in its entirety. Ross writes that Small Wild Things was an experiment in how pictorial traditions and conventions evolve and why. In 2004, she saw an exhibition of contemporary Tantra drawings at New York's Drawing Center. She explains that the Tantra drawings "were initially included in 17th-century Hindu religious texts, and eventually, through time, separated from the texts; their original symbolic meanings lost. These anonymous drawings were carried in small folios by Holy Men and copied through the centuries. I am enchanted by the anonymity of the Tantra paintings, and fascinated by their history of use as meditation aids, necessitating them to be re-made as they wore out. Occasionally new images are generated thus creating a new convention. The Tantra images continue to be made today. While the images my collaborators and I made have only superficial relation to these Tantra images, they have been created in a mode of intense focus and quiet contemplation." The artist thanks her collaborators in Small Wild Things: Daniel Anderson, Jeffrey Baker, Andrea Borsuk, Lisa Conway, Terri Cutz, Marc Jordan, Marilyn Joyce, Cynthia Lahti, Kristin Miller, Georgian Nehl, Lisa O'Brien, Lisa Onstadt, Jeneve Parrish, Sandra Preston, Tracy Schlapp, Heidi Schwegler, Brian Shannon and Heather Watkins.

Over the past five years, in addition to his sculptures and drawings, Brad Adkins has re-enacted visual arts related performances by others, including Belgian artist Francis Alÿs and Oregon artist Michael Bowley. For Homage, Adkins is re-creating a work that Oregon artist and musician Nate Slusarenko created in The Art Gym in 1991. Slusarenko sanded away much of the paint on a small section of wall to reveal the traces of previous installations and artworks, including a small section of Tad Savinar's 1983 wall painting Champ. In all three of these re-enactments, Adkins had never seen the originals. Instead he learned of their existence through hearsay, and proceeded from there, speaking when possible with the original artists to learn more about scale and location.


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