My older sister and I are only three years apart in age, making hand-me-downs and the poaching of each other’s closets a natural occurrence when we were growing up. While this was usually a fine and accepted practice with few rules, my sister had the unusual habit of trying to stuff her normal, adult-sized feet into my five-and-a-half size shoes. This practice always left me squealing, “Don’t stretch them!”
The current installation, Another Look: Appropriation in Art, at the Nasher Museum brings together works from the 1970s to the present that incorporate and recontextualize imagery from the history of art and the larger world around us. Several of these works use serial images to draw attention to our consumerist landscape and the relationship between quantity and quality. Other works reconfigure familiar details from historical paintings, dealing with the idea of inclusion and exclusion from the art historical canon.
Alexander Kosolapov’s Malevich, Marlboro Series addresses both art history and our consumer culture. In this set of four identical canvases, Kosolapov has painted the design seen on the Marlboro cigarette package. Instead of including the word “Marlboro,” however, Kosolapov has written “Malevich” in reference to Kazimir Malevich (1878-1935), the Russian father of abstraction and leader of the Suprematist movement. Suprematist works largely employ simple geometric forms and bold blocks of color—similar to the approach of twentieth-century marketing design, as on the Marlboro packaging. Kosolapov, then, has drawn an artistic line connecting the history of Russian modern art to American commercialism to related issues of original/copy and quantity/quality.
What does this have to do with my sister wedging her feet into my shoes? In some ways, I think we can view the works in this installation as taking the hand-me-downs of art history, working with imagery that already exists, but creating a new outfit that combines a little bit of the vintage with something that still has its tags on. The statements these artists are making visually work because they are based on something already known to the viewer, something familiar and comfortable, something we have worn before. They provide an entry point to an unfamiliar work. By adding to these images (or revising and recontextualizing them), what we previously knew has been stretched out in some ways, expanded on with new meanings and ideas incorporated. The artists have not so much shoved their too big contemporary ideas into these historical images, but have rather created an additional function, purpose, or intention that widens their scope, bringing them a renewed relevance for today’s audience.
Alexander Kosolapov, Malevich, Marlboro Series (detail), 1990. Acrylic on canvas. 24 x 44 inches (61 x 111.8 cm). Museum purchase, acquired with the assistance of Mr. and Mrs. Michael Wilsey, Atherton, CA .2000.16.2. Photo by J Caldwell.