(noun) - To appropriate is to take possession of something. Appropriation artists deliberately copy images to take possession of them in their art. They are not stealing or plagiarizing. They are not passing off these images as their very own. Not at all. Appropriation artists want the viewer to recognize the images they copy, and they hope that the viewer will bring all of his/her original associations with the image to the artist's new context, be it a painting, a sculpture, a collage, a combine or an entire installation.
The deliberate "borrowing" of an image for this new context is called "recontextualization." Recontextualization helps the artist comment on the image's original meaning and the viewer's association with the original image or the real thing.
Let's take Andy Warhol's Campbell's Soup Can series (1961). These images are appropriated. He copied the original labels exactly, but filled up the picture plane with their iconic appearance. Unlike other garden-variety still-lifes, these works look like portraits of a soup can. The brand is the image's identity.
Warhol isolated the image of these products to stimulate product recognition (just like in advertising) and stir up associations with the idea of Campbell's soup - that mmm mmm good feeling. He also tapped into a whole bunch of other associations, such as consumerism, commercialism, big business, fast food, middle class values, and food representing love. As an appropriated image, these specific soup labels could resonate with meaning (like a stone tossed into a pond) and so much more.
Warhol's use of popular imagery became part of the Pop art movement.
All Appropriation Art is not Pop Art, though. Sherry Levine's After Walker Evans (1981) is a photograph of a Walker Evans photograph. She is challenging the concept of ownership: if she photographed the photograph, whose photograph was it, really? And she is addressing the predominance of male artists in the textbook version of art history. Sherry Levine is a feminist artist.
Kathleen Gilje appropriates masterpieces in order to comment on the original content and propose another. In Bacchus, Restored (1992), she appropriated Caravaggio's Bacchus (ca. 1595) and added open condoms to the festive offerings of wine and fruit on the table. Painted when AIDS had taken the lives of so many artists, the artist commented on unprotected sex as the new forbidden fruit.
Other well-known Appropriation artists are Richard Prince, Jeff Koons, Louise Lawler, Gerhard Richter, Yasumasa Morimura, and Hiroshi Sugimoto.