Appropriation and the art that results from it can’t really be defined as a true artistic movement, but rather a category under which a number of artists, mainly from the US, were grouped from the 1980s to the 1990s.
Appropriation art is any work of art that borrows, recycles, samples or remixes images and objects to represent aspects (generally rather evident if not outright symbolic) of the visual culture created by man for man, from the upper echelons of refinement to popular culture that appeals to the masses.
Given the above, appropriation art, in part thanks to the use of techniques such as quotation, allusion, parody, pastiche and bricolage, found its ideal habitat in the cultural period that can be called late modern or postmodern.
However, unlike other art movements that we’ve analyzed thus far, appropriation clearly calls into question the long-standing role of authenticity, originality and authorship as they pertain to artwork. Some artists who practice appropriation go as far as to take possession of the art of others in an extremely flippant, radical manner.
One of the best examples of this modus operandi can be found in the work of Sherrie Levine, perhaps the most famous and oft mentioned artist who makes use of appropriation. Levine got her start with collage, then began borrowing the images of important creatives of the 20th century, photographing their work in books and catalogs (her most famous series is that dedicated to renowned photographer Walker Evans, titled After Walker Evans).
Continuing down this path is the pioneering work of Elaine Sturtevant who, in the mid-1960s, began to “repeat” pieces by important artists who were also alive at the time (Andy Warhol, Jasper Johns, Marcel Duchamp, Joseph Beuys, Roy Lichtenstein, etc.).
And last but not least, when it comes to appropriation, special mention goes to Richard Prince, who recycled (and still recycles) preexisting images, from advertisements to his ultimate trademark: recent pictures dug up on social media platforms.
Taken as a whole, appropriation art is a commentary on the overproduction of copies, remakes, re-enactments, revisions and reconstructions of the enormous amount of images, artistic or not, sophisticated or trite, that modern societies have produced day after day since the advent of mass media.