Sturtevant was a maverick. Her “repetitions” of artworks by male contemporaries often induced a sense of disorientation in their viewers. As she was fond of saying, her works “create vertigo.” Sturtevant worked in real time, engaging with and absorbing the works of other artists at the time that they were being produced. She had an uncanny ability to capture the most important aesthetic break throughs of her time, honing in on practices that would eventually become integral to the western canon of modern and contemporary art, not in retrospect, but as they were happening. Although her work was met with much resistance during her time, her conceptual strategy stretched the Duchampian ideal to a radical conclusion—thereby raising pressing questions about the nature of authorship, authenticity, originality, repetition, and difference.
Begun in 1964, Warhol’s Flowers were the earliest works in Sturtevant’s oeuvre, made the same year that Warhol made and exhibited his silkscreens at Castelli Gallery. For Sturtevant, technique and medium were of secondary importance. Her practice relied instead on prompting an intellectual jolt in viewers that up-ended common assumptions of creativity and artistic practice. When asked how he made his silk-screened works, Warhol famously told people to “ask Elaine.” Indeed, Warhol had given the original screens to Sturtevant to produce her Flowers, which seemed indistinguishable from Warhol’s both in appearance and production. In Sturtevant’s hands, these works became “unoriginal originals,” as they were made outside of the Warhol’s studio system and thereby brought into a different context. Yet Sturtevant doubted that he truly understood her conceptual project. “‘Everyone says: So Andy really understood!’ Well I don’t think so. I think he didn’t give a fuck. Which is a very big difference, isn’t it?”