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Scott Grieger

American, b. 1946

Impersonations (1-15)
1970

Gelatin silver prints
18.25 x 14.25 in. (46.355 x 36.195 cm)
Gift of the Marie Eccles Caine Foundation
2001.6.1-15

Impersonations is a suite of fifteen black-and-white photographs of the artist doing his “impressions” of various works of contemporary art. It happened like this: Grieger began hanging out at his girlfriend’s parents’ house (the Norman Lears) with Hollywood funnymen like Sid Caesar, Carl Reiner, Mel Brooks, and Tony Bill. Over dinner, all these men would do “impressions” of Sinatra, of Cagney, of each other. They would spin jokes, making one out of the other, and this process, in Grieger’s view, was no less rigorous and intellectual than the discourse at Cal State Northridge (the art school he was attending at the time), only faster and much funnier. So he decided to apply the standards and bravura and ruthless economy he had learned at the Lears’ to the creation of high art.

Impersonations juxtaposes words and images to comment on the sources of formality in sculpture and to demonstrate the ease with which the “low” may mimic the “high.” They are jokes, in other words. Our sudden, serendipitous, seemingly inappropriate connection of the image to the text makes us laugh. One of the new things about Impersonations is their postmodern insistence that contemporary sculpture is not really that new—that all sculpture throughout the history of art addressed the relationship of bodies in space, and the human body was the keystone of that relationship. The debt of contemporary sculpture to traditional sculpture, therefore, was unavoidable and usually legible. At its heart, sculpture is about the scale of the object relative to the body, whether it’s standing (Newman, Trova, Oldenburg, LeWitt), leaning (Bladen, McCracken, Serra, Grosvenor), sprawling (Morris, Smithson), or crawling (Rauschenberg). As a consequence, our laughter at Impersonations is not just laughter at the high brought low; it is also the laughter of enlightenment, of being shown how the trick is done.

Dave Hickey


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