There is the inside and the outside.
There is the interior and exterior.
Not as in the Foucault fold, but as in
essence, force and potency:
the interior silent power of art.
And it is here that hovers
The entangled challenge of replication.

Replica is not copy, but it could be.
Replica might be double but its ‘sameness’
will trip us up.
Replica could never be repetition,
for repetition is difference.
Replica might be repeating, but
that is all surface.
Replica could be re-do and re-make,
but it is in-your-face cyber.
So we can jet that.
Or maybe not.

Copy, of course, has the absolute
beauty of looking just like
the real thing.
But copy conceals dangerous

The rigid technique required to make
an exact detailed copy renders it without
force; the art work becoming static and dead.
There is no opposition or confrontation;
it is incapable of imposing and
creating action.

Such denial of critical elements in a
work of art is like denying the artist
his most powerful implement.
Voilà, this is a no-go.

Double has the spectacular
problem of ‘sameness’ which
works for replication except
for this burden.
For in our cybernetic world
same is:
And there is the dilemma of
nothing can be the same in a
finite and infinite world.
The placing of this limitation
is, of course, limited to works of art.
Indeed, not to the vast double of language …
So does it work for replication
or not?
Maybe yes, maybe no.

Repetition is a breath-taking
conceptual idea that has greatly
pushed the limitation of resemblance;
holding the higher powers of
non-identity and difference.
Its presence has narrowed the gap
between visibilities and articulation.
If one could jump over the dynamics of
difference, this would be an excellent
method for replication.
However, the crucial leap from
image to concept, this displacement
of image that throws out
representation might not be the best
place for replication to go.
Certainly it would possess veracity,
but unfortunately eliminates the artist.

Repeating might be an
excellent mode for replicating,
but it is back to the surface again:
what is ‘on top’.
It desperately cares what it
‘looks like’ rather than
containing silent power which
is of no interest.
This digital process is
image over image and
used by Warhol with brilliance.

Cybernetics imposition on
how we act, think, feel;
our mode of ‘being’
is perhaps an advantage
for the art of replicating.
It releases the high anxiety of being original.
Original is no longer viable,
having long ago met its demise.

This trap, our obsession
of what lies on the surface,
is prevalent everywhere.
It is not a question of getting
rid of these potent elements as
not knowing it could be there.
Its blatant absence is in high gear
in most of our current art whose
push and shove is production
as meaning and consumption
as use.
Or burden by heavy subjectivity
hiding behind anonymity,
displaying our vast barren interior
by retreating to regressive teeny-bopper imagery.
The interior of art, the understructure,
is being concisely and brutally eliminated.

Our digital shift from seeing to listening
also has dire consequences for art.
Seeing, which is not seeing, has been
replaced by listening.
To see is to listen.
This is an old/new rage of museums
with NYC MOMA leading
the pack
Plug in your ears,
listen to every bitsy detail
and hear the endless narrative of –
Forget how one can fall in love
with a painting or sculpture,
forget being breathless with its
vigour and audacity.

Spectators, which brings to mind
gladiators being eaten alive by lions,
only demand entertainment.
Thus, seeing is only perception
hearing is only a distraction.

But not so for visibilities which
bring to see to its highest power.
However, the strenuous requirements of
to be there,
are a great impediment.
In our anti-intellect world,
these vital elements are considered
heavy baggage or are
totally out of the digi loop.

The fight, rebellion, all the weight
and drive of a work of art should
be present in a valid replica.
As such:
Copy is out.
Double is out.
Repetition is out.
Repeating is out.
Re-do and re-make
are definitely out.

However, if one takes a
philosophical position, it
would become clear that
this idea of a critical interior
is archaic.
After all, all is deeply embedded
in our cyber fold.

Then copy, double and repeating
become a possible method
for replication.
But it’s a bit of a cheat,
isn’t it?
And what about those
who know?

Now, the much dreaded subject
of materials:
materials not to be found,
almost-like materials,
and maybe materials.

When doing the black Stellas,
the chemistry of the paint had
been changed; giving a different
quality to the work.
It was resolved by finding one of
those jammed Little Italy stores.
Not because they had old black paint
but rather because the owner had a
Brooklyn friend
who had a basement full of old
black paint
But that is a throw of the dice.

But doing the Johns sculpt-metal
light bulbs was never resolved.
In a short period of time,
the sculpt-metal radically changed.
Driving the manufacture and the chemist
totally crazy in my determination to find
a resolution, was useless.
And a wide search, with the hope
of finding the original materials,
was an exercise in futility.

With Beuys and his perishable fat,
the solution is to destroy the piece
after its run at a museum.
An efficient method to eliminate
later replication.
Replacement of fat is easy.
Fat and fat of all kinds, will always
be around. Of course, winter fat is
crucial as is the repetition only by
the artist. The latter a mighty fix.

Not only not
(a gritty double negative)
having found resolutions for
the inherent vice of replication;
perhaps it has even been agitated.
with all this paradox and contradictions.

So, I am taking my head
and getting out of here.


This paper was written as a short discussion document for the Inherent Vice: The Replica and its Implications in Modern Sculpture Workshop, held at Tate Modern, 18–19 October 2007, and supported by The Andrew W. Mellon Foundation. Other papers produced for this workshop can be found in Tate Papers no.8.

Tate Papers Autumn 2007 © Sturtevant

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How to cite

Sturtevant, 'Inherent Vice or Vice Versa', Tate Papers, no.8, Autumn 2007,, accessed 27 July 2017.

Tate Papers (ISSN 1753-9854) is a peer-reviewed research journal that publishes articles on British and modern international art, and on museum practice today.