Sherrie Levine is known for appropriating the work of canonical male artists in order to deconstruct accepted art-historical concepts like originality, authenticity, authorship, and the purity of medium and suggest their inherent mutability.
Over a decade after she began reproducing works by famous male artists such as Constantin Brancusi, Walker Evans, and Willem de Kooning, Levine created a cast bronze replica of Marcel Duchamp’s Fountain, 1917, one of the first readymade sculptures, a commercially manufactured urinal that Duchamp removed from a functional context and presented as a work of art. In Levine’s Fountain (Buddha), she recasts Duchamp’s work in a critical light, challenging the nearly universal acceptance and celebration of Duchamp’s early twentieth-century radicalism. Levine subverts the everyday quality of Duchamp’s readymade by casting the work in bronze, a valuable material with strong currency in the history of sculpture. Levine collapses multiple associations within this work, as the low-culture urinal is presented as a bronze masterwork. The title points to the visual similarity of the upturned urinal with Buddhist reliquary sculptures, offering many pathways for reconsidering the original work.
Fountain (Buddha) is one of several works in the ICA/Boston collection that critique accepted notions of artistic creativity, the authenticity and commodification of the art object, and the nature of the art-historical canon.