Since the 1980s, Mike Bidlo has been making work that questions the nature of authenticity and authorship. His meticulous copies of paintings by Pablo Picasso and Jackson Pollock, for example, beg viewers to marvel at their formal prowess before realizing that the works were produced not by modernist masters but by Bidlo himself. In other words, the art of these copies lies not in the object, but in the ideas about authorship that surround or imbue them. Analyze the object too closely, and it crumbles under pressure—the object itself deliberately has no substance.
This was likely the thought process behind Bidlo’s Fractured Fountain (Not Duchamp Fountain 1917), 2015, a bronze redo of the French artist’s famous readymade. (The Bidlo work is produced in an edition of eight, four of which are on view in this show.) Rather than just appropriating Duchamp’s controversial sculpture, Bidlo takes the master’s iconic urinal form and remakes it, using a new material, shattering it, and then imperfectly piecing it back together.
Bidlo’s use of bronze evokes ancient Greek sculptures, which were copied by Romans and disseminated widely. Dramatically lit and shown on pedestals, the Fractured Fountain works are like sacred relics.
Installed nearby is Gilded Bottle Rack (Not Duchamp Bottle Rack 1924), 2015, a chrome-plated bottle rack that builds on the cool, conceptual logic of Fractured Fountain. (These, too, are editioned, but no two are identical.) What makes this a Bidlo work, and not simply a Duchamp knockoff, is not that there is more than one bottle rack (Duchamp made copies of his own works), but that sculptures vary in size. Some are big, some are small—that’s all that differentiates them from the Dada bottle-rack sculpture.
Is it possible to create an original gesture in Bidlo’s world? Perhaps, but only if you lay waste to art history, which is precisely what Bidlo does in the final work of this show—Flattened Bottle Rack (2016), a steamrolled version of Gilded Bottle Rack.
In many ways, Bidlo’s work seems somewhat dated. It’s specific to a certain moment, sometime around the late ’70s or early ’80s, when postmodern theorists wrote that true authorship was no longer possible—every original artistic act had already been done. Since then, younger artists have shifted those same concerns away from art history, toward the Internet and new technology, but Bidlo, a Pictures Generation stalwart, sticks to his guns here.