2 Shoes is a pair of brown lace-up children’s shoes displayed on a plain white plinth. The shoes were produced specially for the artist by an Italian manufacturer; the work is the thirty-second in an edition of ninety-nine commissioned by Parkett magazine in 1992. 2 Shoes is based on a work entitled Shoe Sale that Levine staged in New York in 1977. She has explained:
In the early seventies, when I first got out of school, I lived in Berkeley and taught in the area. One of the jobs I had was at San Jose State. I used to stop at a thrift shop on my way home. One day I went in and saw a carton of seventy-five pairs of little black shoes for fifty cents a piece. It was an offer I couldn’t refuse. I bought them. And when I moved to New York in 1975, I had nothing but a suitcase and this carton of shoes. Then I just kept them around, I never knew what to do with them. In 1977 Barbara Ess introduced me to Stefan Eins who was running the Three Mercer Street Store. He was looking for artists who wanted to show things ... that weren’t the kind of thing you find ain a gallery, but which made reference to the store ... we did a show that took place on two weekends ... Two shoes sold for two dollars, and they sold out immediately ... Subsequently, I received a lot of requests for a pair of the shoes, and so when Parkett wanted to do an edition with me, I asked them if they would be interested in reproducing these shoes, and they loved the idea.
(Quoted in http://www.jca-online.com/slevine.html, p.10.)
Educated at the University of Wisconsin, Madison, where she received a BA in 1969 and an MFA in 1973, Levine first gained critical attention in 1981 when she exhibited photographs of photographs by Edward Weston (1886-1958) and Walker Evans (1903-75) at Metro Pictures, New York. She had studied photo-printmaking at college and worked commercially in order to survive financially for many years and, as a result, was familiar with working with multiple images and mechanical reproduction. These processes had led her to consider the difference in attitudes towards originality in the commercial world of the media and in the world of high art. Levine’s own earliest experience of art had been as mechanical reproductions in art history books and this inspired her to begin copying images from books. Appropriation is central to her practice, which analyses the fetishisation of art objects and notions of male and female desire interpreted through Freudian and Lacanian psychoanalysis at the same time as exploring the notion of authorship. Early works in the late seventies were collages made by cutting pages out of a book of Andreas Feininger (1909-99) photographs and mounting them onto mats. For another series, the President Collages 1979, she cut out silhouettes of American Presidents from magazine pages showing beautiful and fashionable women, who are enclosed in the Presidents’ heads. Since the early eighties she has used works created by the (male) masters of high modernism as her source, making drawings after Willem de Kooning (1904-97), Egon Schiele (1890-1918) and Kasimir Malevitch (1878-1935), watercolours after Piet Mondrian (1872-1944), Henri Matisse (1869-1954), El Lissitzky (1890-1941) and Fernand Léger (1881-1955), oil paintings after Yves Klein (1928-62) and sculptures based on works by Marcel Duchamp (1887-1968), Man Ray (1890-1976) and Constantin Brancusi (1876-1957). Such works as The Batchelors (After Marcel Duchamp) 1989-90 and Fountain (After Marcel Duchamp) 1991 take elements of two iconic works by Duchamp, The Bride Stripped Bare by Her Bachelors, Even (The Large Glass) 1915-23 and Fountain 1917 (both Philadelphia Museum of Art), and transform them into seductive and feminised objects of desire.
Levine has also been strongly influenced by the New York based German artist Richard Artschwager (born 1923) whose sculptures, such as Table and Chair 1963-4 (see Tate T03793), combine functional furniture with refined minimalism. For Levine, these works’ play on two and three dimensions, and on the tension between representation and reality, results in resonances of the uncanny as defined by Sigmund Freud (1856-1939) in his famous essay The Uncanny (1925). 2 Shoes likewise generates associations with the uncanny, its apparent banal functionality undercut by its diminutive scale. This is emphasised by the overlong shoe-laces which make outsize bows when laced up.
Parkett, no.32, June 1992, pp.74-111, reproduced p.75
http://www.jca-online.com/slevine.html, p.10, reproduced p.10 in colour
Sherrie Levine, exhibition catalogue, Kunsthalle Zürich, Westfälisches Landesmuseum Münster, Rooseum – Center for Contemporary Art, Malmö and Hôtel des arts, Paris 1991, pp.8 and 74-5