When Great Artists Steal, It’s Only Appropriate

The first thing to ask Robert Berman about his epic new show VERY APPROPRIATE is a definition of terms. In the genre of Appropriation, stealing is the game, what critic Peter Frank calls in the show’s essay “admitted forgery,” and so some clarity about the curator’s perspective on where the show lands along the gradient continuum of copy, homage, and Appropriation proper is definitely in order. He responded by gleefully claiming the spirit of the genre’s patron saint Marcel Duchamp, declaring that it is whatever he and the artists say it is. There are examples at every turn of that premise which illustrate the nuanced variations that animate the presentation. The key seems to lie in the artist’s assertion — or rather more often, outright rejection — of their own voice as one of authentic authorship. The exhibition is rife with examples using language to make plain their role as repeater, especially the appearances of “not” and “after” in the works’ titles. Also, having a sense of humor makes a big difference.

 

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