The Work of Art in the Age of Xerox Reproduction


By Erica Eisen

March of 2018 marked the closing of Experiments in Electrostatics, an exhibition organized by Whitney curatorial fellow Michelle Donnelly that provided a sampling of works produced by American artists who used the photocopier as their medium between 1966 and 1986. Collectively, the pieces on display troubled the divide between creation and replication, terms often on opposite poles of a ne’er-the-twain-shall-meet binary. Of the show’s four sections, two were devoted to individual women artists, Lesley Schiff and Barbara T. Smith, while a third area of focus was the International Society for Copier Artists (ICSA). A collective with a membership composed largely of women, ICSA was founded by Louise Neaderland in 1981 to promote the legitimacy of copy machine art. While the exhibition never raises the matter directly, lying behind the works on display is both a long history of women artists being dismissed as mere copyists and the simultaneous trend of women in the workplace being confined to tasks related to copying. In light of these historical phenomena, copier artists’ critique of the originality-reproduction dichotomy takes on deeper, more political dimensions.


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