Project 1: Research point: Sandra Gamarra

Background information from Moma (Sandra Gamarra. s.d.): Peruvian, born 1972 (Peru/West of South America/inland border with Brazil/coastal Pacific/pre Columbian art may be an influence/preserved/heritage?)… there is a link but no Wikipedia entry?!

This is the first work I found online at the Moma:

Fig. 1 The New Worshipers, ll (2007)

a) Description:

Three primary age schoolgirls, maybe first year secondary school, on a museum visit looking at a Christian sculpture? They appear bored, only one child is working… the other two are vaguely interested in what she’s doing but not in the museum. One other visitor in the background. Only the people are in oil, the context is in pencil.

b) Analysis:

That the museum is dead (as it has no colour) and the girls are only interested in themselves.

I Googled around and can’t find ‘the original’ painting this is copied from, so maybe she also paints original work.

Her Google entry says:

Sandra Gamarra is known for producing paintings that copy other artworks or museum displays. In the Latin American context, translation and copying are an essential part of igniting the memory of an object, translating the past as it is recovered in the present. (sandra gamarra – Google Search. s.d.)

This suggests that there is a cultural context for appropriation which doesn’t exist in Western art where for many people (unmitigated) appropriation is seen as theft.

In a Phaidon article Gamarra says (Sandra Gamarra – Why I Paint. s.d.) that she is fascinated by the way objects hold memories, how they capture and maintain them. She says we build our identity from memories and her painting of objects is a metaphor for individual identity. Another concern is to examine and expose the structures of academic art and museums and how art is (and art objects) displayed and memories curated. In the Spanish tradition copying was a form of submission but that it is also an act of displacement, by copying the original you confirm its originality and also take ownership of it.

Here is a painting by Gamarra

Fig. 2 Other Sources ll (2009)

Appropriated from El Greco:

Fig. 3 The Nobleman with his Hand on his Chest (1580)

A range of thoughts come to mind… firstly there is no copyright issue with El Greco’s` painting. However, on the same terms that Gamarra is claiming Other Sources ll as her work (unless she had access to the original painting) she must have copied this from a photograph. That photograph is somebody’s work, a minor point but worth noting… it would be the same as somebody appropriating her painting.

Technically, it is a lot easier to copy a high status painting than create one from scratch as the composition, colours, tone and contrast have all been done for you. And if it’s by a famous artist, and a well known painting, you also have the visibility of the original painter’s work (and the particular painting) to help you with marketing.

Interestingly, Gamarra does not credit the original painting in anything I’ve seen on the internet and I had to put her painting in Google Lens to find the original. For me this questions whether she is really about establishing the original as, if that were the case, one would assume she would acknowledge and publish the original, unless she is painting for a very specialist market who are well versed in El Greco’s paintings.

Looking at her painting, it would not pass as a forgery nor is she trying to do that. The colours and tones are quite different, and yet it looks like a poor (but adequate) copy rather than a conceptual painting. Jasper Johns USA flags are obviously conceptual, the flag is appropriated but significantly changed. For Johns the subject matter is known by his audience and his changes obvious enough to raise complex cultural questions.

It seems that the conceptuality of the painting is wrapped around afterwards by contextualising it with language. If one were being cynical, it could be said that a new painting of this standard, lacking the clarity and personality of the original, might have difficulty selling or standing out in the marketplace.

We can look at another of Gamarra’s paintings and the original:

Fig. 4 Other Sources lll (2009)

Fig. 5 Still Life with Pots (1605)

I would argue that the same arguments apply to Gamarra’s painting above as applied to her appropriation of El Greco’s painting.

Zurbarán’s painting has the finish of a master. It is visually and texturally realistic with a deep black background creating a strong chiaroscuro effect, the the pots sparkle with life and you feel you could run your fingers over them. The composition of the four pots in a shallow depth of field highlights them like stars on a stage.

Gamarra’s copy is (maybe deliberately?) weak. She doesn’t carry down the shadows between the pots and loses the chiaroscuro… her shapes and texture are sketchy, the colour combinations are less effective, and she lacks the sparkle of the pots.

It may be that she is deliberately painting an unpolished copy of a masterpiece to claim it as her own, to give herself ownership. To say, this is my work and now it is my memory… and you can buy it both as a copy of a famous painting (rather than a poster) and a conceptual comment on identity, memory and curation?

I stand open to new information and interpretation but for me the argument for her appropriation has not been won. It doesn’t work in the terms that Jasper Johns appropriated the American flag and heaved a conceptual masterpiece into view that challenged a nation’s identity. Nor like Sherrie Levine who (though I dispute her breach of copyright law) raised feminist awareness and thrust postmodernism into the spotlight. By contrast I feel Gamarra’s work struggles to justify itself conceptually and is all too easy to frame as marketing strategy to raise her visibility by using another artist’s work.

List of illustrations:

Fig. 1 Gamarra, S. (2007) The New Worshipers, ll [Pencil and oil on paper] At: https://www.moma.org/artists/32909 (Accessed 19/11/2020).

Fig. 2 Gamarra, S. (2009) Other Sources ll [Oil on paper] At: https://www.invaluable.com/auction-lot/sandra-gamarra-224-c-1304e22bd9 (Accessed 20/11/2020).

Fig. 3 Greco, E. (1580) The Nobleman with his Hand on his Chest. [Oil on canvas] At: https://en.wikipedia.org/w/index.php?title=The_Nobleman_with_his_Hand_on_his_Chest&oldid=975470824 (Accessed 20/11/2020).

Fig. 4 Gamarra, S (2009) Other Sources lll. [Oil on paper] At: https://www.invaluable.com/auction-lot/sandra-gamarra-othersources-iii-341-c-8104a2f992 (Accessed 20/11/2020).

Fig. 5 Zurbarán, F (1605) Still Life with Pots. [Oil on canvas] At: https://en.wikipedia.org/w/index.php?title=Still_Life_with_Pots&oldid=953049053 (Accessed 20/11/2020).

Bibliography:

Sandra Gamarra (s.d.) At: https://www.moma.org/artists/32909 (Accessed 19/11/2020).

sandra gamarra – Google Search (s.d.) At: https://www.google.com/search?gs_ssp=eJzj4tVP1zc0TDKPzzWOTy80YPTiK07MSylKVEhPzE0sKkoEAJUMCgs&q=sandra+gamarra&oq=Sandra+Gamarra&aqs=chrome.1.35i39i457j46j0i22i30l3j69i61j69i60l2.6932j0j9&sourceid=chrome&ie=UTF-8 (Accessed 20/11/2020).

Sandra Gamarra – Why I Paint (s.d.) At: https://www.phaidon.com/agenda/art/articles/2016/october/27/sandra-gamarra-why-i-paint/ (Accessed 20/11/2020).

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