Masters of appropriation
From Liberty to Olympia, artists are wearing their influences on their sleeves
By Jane Morris. From Art Basel daily edition
Published online: 20 June 2014
Picasso famously said that “good artists copy, great artists steal”—and there are plenty of examples of artists copying or stealing (depending on your point of view) on show at Art Basel this year, including works by the great man himself. Most examples are contemporary artists drawing on the historical canon: while Manet referred to Titian’s Venus of Urbino, 1538 (itself based on a painting by Giorgione), for Olympia, 1863, the Bruce High Quality Foundation has copied/stolen Manet for its silkscreen-and-neon Olympia, 2014, on show with Thomas Ammann Fine Art (2.0/B13).
From the 1970s, appropriation was used to challenge the “heroic genius” status of the artist, or to question art’s value as a commodity. But there are many other ways of using the works of Old Masters. At Galleria Lorcan O’Neill (2.1/R7), the Italian performance and conceptual artist Luigi Ontani (b. 1943) has created works in which he appears in the guise of figures such as Dante and Raphael, and which refer to artists from De Chirico to Guido Reni and Guercino, by way of Africa, India and beyond. Very like the later Matthew Barney, to whom he is sometimes compared, Ontani uses his body, performance and a myriad of cultural and historical references to create his own, strange mythological world.
At Chemould Prescott Road (2.1/P6), the Indian artist Pushpamala N. (b. 1956) uses a similar device—photographing herself in the style of famous paintings—but this time as a critic of Orientalism, turning an Indian, female gaze on the works of the European masters.
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