"Messin' with the Masters" Remixes Art History at Mesa Contemporary Arts

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For centuries, artists have outright copied the work of culturally significant artists. In days of yore, it was de rigueur to slavishly reproduce, stroke by stroke, paintings and sculpture crowned with the title of masterpiece by then acknowledged societal arbiters of good taste and high fashion.

During the Renaissance and well into the Enlightenment, entire European studios and workshops were filled with fledgling art students and guild craftsmen humbly honing their technical skills in hopes of being as good as the master, or at least good enough to work alongside him. Asian cultures had a huge head start on Europe in this department; they were producing art based on the work and styles of master artists centuries before it ever became culturally mandatory for their Western counterparts.

Beginning in the late 19th and early 20th century, household-name artists like Marcel Duchamp and Pablo Picasso shamelessly started filching bits and pieces of visual elements and styles from revered art historical masterworks to create entirely new art. By the 1980s, a full-bore movement called appropriationism reached an apex, in which artists borrowed, reused, and recycled -- sometimes wholesale -- art from times and cultures past, even using the work of their contemporaries, including, according to critic Arthur Danto, "...bad drawing and bad painting." Placing those ripped-off components in new contexts or tweaking their presentation gave new subversive meaning to old imagery, ideally elevating it to high art. Some critics solemnly declared that appropriationism marked the end of art, the avant-garde, and art history itself.

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Kathleen Vanesian