Project 1: visual texture; research points 1&2

Douglas Crimp (1944-2019) and appropriating appropriation.

My distillation of this 1993 paper is that it comprises a discussion or essay on the emerging use of photography in the appropriation of work done by someone else, in some cases by simply taking another photograph of the original, and the validity of this as a creative art form. The initial appropriation is presented as either the use of a style or the inclusion of a specific element – for instance buildings in the classic Greek or Roman tradition, or ones that import a feature from a contemporaneous work.

Anyone working in academia in the early 1970s will remember the sheaves of photocopies of referenced journal articles handed out by tutors after each lecture. Then later the instruction to copy the article yourself because copyright legislation had finally hit home. I knew someone who had been successfully prosecuted and this has shaped my ongoing attitude to intellectual property. I have publications which involved work and I would object strongly to anyone’s attempt to claim them as their own. Bizarrely, I have also been cited as the author of a papers I did not write but which have a similar titles to some I did and just a year out from their publication dates. I tried to have them removed but they kept reappearing in the listings of the essay mills doing the rounds a few years ago.

More amusingly, a friend judging a short story competition found one of her own pieces on the list, being claimed by the entrant as his own. It was swiftly ejected.

So copyright, intellectual property, and the legal ownership of a creative product is familiar territory to me; and latterly the music industry is coming down hard on samplers of other people’s output under the same legislation. Appropriation, then, is a hard sell to me and I wonder how long it will be before this too is subject to legal proceedings because is it not just sampling by another name?

I had the impression that much of Crimp’s essay was prompted by the evolution of photography such that it was becoming ubiquitous in terms of its accessibility. He had not yet met smart phones, nor digital art that allows for importation of images and subsequent alteration of them within a non-physical environment, although I have to assume he did later in his life.

In addition to the architects Michael Graves and Frank Gehry (responsible for the classicism and single element examples of buildings), Crimp describes Sherrie Levine (1947-) as ‘lay[ing] no claim to conventional notions of artistic creativity’ in that she simply photographs things with no further intervention. An example is ‘Two Shoes’ which I have found on Artnet], and which is simply a photo of a pair of unremarkable brown shoes. It set me wondering, though – if I print this then take a photograph and post it on my blog without reference to Levine, am I a plagiarist or an innocent appropriator? I’m not prepared to risk that!

This though, is helpful. It’s a short video made by SFMoMA in which Stephanie Syjuco discusses Levine’s La Fortune (after Man Ray). I had read earlier that Levine’s appropriation involves largely the work of male artists and that her underlying intent is to make a feminist statement. In this piece, she has turned a painting into a physical piece – an actual billiard table – but while Syjuco discusses Levine’s feminist pedigree, she never seems to pinpoint that discourse in this piece, beyond suggesting that it exemplifies a male dominated game (I may be over-interpreting Syjuco’s own interpretation here) that she has made her own.

This is the link to the video: Accessed 31st December 2021.

Sandra Gamarra (1972-) takes a more interventionist approach to her work by repetition and cataloguing of domestic and other items (see ArtNexus, or, as in the example shown in the course materials, layers pieces of the work of others to make something new. Again, there is no indication she credits the artists whose work she has incorporated and I wonder how I would feel if paragraphs of work I had published appeared in the text of someone’s novel or academic paper with no reference to their origin. Actually, there is no wondering about it – I would be furious and, with intellectual property law behind me, I would take legal action, so why is this not the case when artists appropriate?

The task in the second research point is to analyse Gamarra’s works visually and critically, then to consider why they might be classified as contemporary. This is difficult as on-line is the only option and, frankly, to get anything out of looking at her work, I would really welcome some active teaching because it leaves me cold. There is nothing for me to get hold of; I don’t know what her motivation is, or why the pieces are as they are; and even less, why they are considered valuable. Their classification as contemporary seems default and derived from a subtractive process whereby this is what is left after all other options are removed.

I realise this account may seem disparaging but it is not intended to be so. It is true to say that it comes from a frustration I feel when exposed to art, whether visual or otherwise, that does not explain itself, at least not to those of us who are not in the loop, as it were. I have written elsewhere about the practice of many creatives to withhold process information from the general public that they freely give to their aficionados which they might see as a sympathetic audience. However, there is also a good deal of work that, like jazz, baroque, chamber music, and John Cage when he has people listen to four minutes of silence, I am never going to like much or have time for. If I can’t dance to it, it’s not for me*; and much the same applies to visual art. I hear no music in Gamarra’s and Levine’s work.

Isa Genzken (1948-) presents a different aesthetic entirely, something much more delicate even when the scale is huge. A sculptor and installationist, she is reported to have become interested latterly in bricolage, a term I had to look up and which means “the construction or creation of a work from a diverse range of things that happen to be available, or a work constructed using mixed media.”, according to wikipedia.

I have a soft spot for Nefertiti, who may have briefly ruled as Pharoah before the ascension of her husband’s son by his sister – imagine that conversation! – Tutankahmun. In this image by Genzken, she reminds me of Jackie Kennedy, another glamourous then dynastically sidelined woman.

This video comes from MoMA and is a retrospective presented by curator Mary Anne Egler [?spelling]. Unfortunately, it was breaking down a few minutes in when I tried it today (31/12/2021) but may be accessible at another time.


This seems to incorporate Research points 1 and 2 although they’re unnumbered in the materials. The first has a 300 word limit, the second, concerning Gamarra, has no limit stated and since I have much less to say about Gamarra, I have amalgamated the two.

*Exceptions include Max Richter, Hans Zimmer, and almost anything by Bowie.

Crimp, D. 1993. Appropriating Appropriation. I can find no publisher; my pdf copy came from

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