Barry Le Va
ADAA: The Art Show, Booth C7
Park Avenue Armory at 67th Street
March 1 - 6, 2016
For The Art Show 2016, David Nolan Gallery will present an ambitious solo exhibition of a single installation by Barry Le Va. Restaging a version of his earliest groundbreaking investigations in felt - which began in 1966 - our booth will be entirely occupied by a floor "distribution" sculpture, comprised of rolls of dark gray felt, aluminum rods, and steel ball bearings - all of which are thoughtfully scattered across the ground.
An early proponent of process art, Le Va is credited for reconceiving sculpture away from the idea of a finished object displayed on a base, instead undertaking a series of "activities" that call the viewer to mentally recreate his process, emphasizing the way in which the sculpture was made. The notion of using the architecture of the exhibition space as the creative field, in which to "perform" the creation of a given work, was an important conceptual shift that characterized the attitudes of leading sculptors of this period. A 1968 cover of Artforum, illustrating a felt sculpture, heralded Le Va's pivotal role in changing our perception of the medium.
Le Va's work can be found in the permanent collections of the Art Institute Chicago; Dallas Museum of Art; Denver Art Museum; Los Angeles County Museum of Art; The Museum of Modern Art, New York; mumok, Vienna; The National Gallery of Art, Washington DC; The Morgan Library & Museum, New York; Whitney Museum of American Art, New York; and Yale University Art Gallery, New Haven. Le Va currently lives and works in New York City.
The presentation will be accompanied by a fully illustrated brochure, with a text by Michael Maizels, who is the author of a new scholarly book entitled Barry Le Va: The Aesthetic Aftermath, published by the University of Minnesota Press, 2015. Barry Le Va: Network is currently on view at the gallery. The exhibition continues through Saturday, March 12.
In a juxtaposition worthy of the most penetrating and scholarly curated exhibition, but in fact thrown up by the invisible hand of the market, one can stand in an aisle at the Park Avenue Armory this weekend and see Cheim and Read’s tastefully sparse installation of three stack paintings by Ron Gorchov, an idiom that tests painting’s boundary with sculpture, out of one eye and a Barry Le Va floor piece at David Nolan out of the other. It would be hard to say what boundaries Le Va isn’t testing: a pioneer of what would come be labeled post-minimalism and process art before those terms were in circulation, his random scatterings of fragments of felt, ball bearings and bales of fabric amidst sleek linear elements in mirrored metal were described in the pages of ARTForum by Jane Livingstone as “distributional sculpture,” a term that didn’t quite make it to the canon of art jargon. Le Va’s piece, planned in his studio in 1967, is enjoying its first realization in 2016.
Everything’s going to pieces in the David Nolan booth at the Art Show—but fret not, that’s the point of Switch, 1967/2016, a giant felt-based “scatter” installation by Barry Le Va, which takes up the whole space. Born in California in 1941, Le Va arrived on the scene in the mid-1960s, as Minimalist sculpture courtesy of Donald Judd was reaching its peak power. Veering in the opposite direction of objecthood, Le Va, using materials like felt, dust, and shattered glass, began making process-based compositions on the floor. Partly sculptural installation, partly deconstructed painting à la Jackson Pollock, partly a performance vacated by the artist, partly the scene of a violent crime (Le Va has adocumented interest in detective novels), not even Artforum had any idea what to call Le Va’s work—a November 1968 cover story dubbed it “distributional sculpture,” for lack of a better term—but today, it’s safe to dub it a watershed moment, with reverberations seen in such contemporary artists as Sarah Sze.
Whether or not they know it, the many young artists today who make haphazard-looking, improvisational installations owe something to Barry Le Va. A pioneer of the diffuse style known, variously, as “Scatter Art” and “Process Art,” Le Va has dispersed materials such as felt, chalk, flour, and shattered glass across large expanses of floor in a way that looks impulsive but is actually somewhat scripted. (His pieces generally begin with written directives and diagrams.) Le Va has long been admired by critics and art historians (he was included in MoMA’s seminal 1970 group show “Information,” and the ICA Philadelphia gave him a retrospective in 2005), but he’s still not nearly as well-known as his contemporaries Donald Judd and Richard Serra. David Nolan’s ADAA booth, which reprises Le Va’s late-1960s “distributions” of felt, aluminum, and steel in a single installation, should help to raise his profile.
In the heyday of postminimalism art, Barry Le Va’s work showed at paradigm shifting exhibitions like the Whitney’s “Anti-Illusion” (1969) and MoMA’s “Information” (1970), alongside Bruce Nauman, Richard Serra, Carl Andre, and Robert Morris. Today, however, the septuagenarian’s legacy has faded somewhat as compared to his bold-faced peers. But Le Va gets his due at David Nolan gallery’s booth, where the artist has restaged one of his floor works, composed of thick, rumpled stacks of felt — some strips cut up and shredded — and dozens of scattered outsized metal balls. It isn’t quite clear whom or what has wreaked the havoc — and that’s just the point. Le Va calls upon the viewer to piece together the unseen action, what he refers to as a Sherlock-Holmes aesthetic. This somewhat distinguishes him from his fellow process artists. As author Mike Maizel writes in an excellent excerpt from the 2015 book “Barry Le Va: The Aesthetic Aftermath,” “Though all of these figures championed an aesthetics of disorder as a means of militating against a cultural or intellectual status quo, Le Va’s consideration of the work of art as always already broken — always already vanished – constitutes a more fundamental intervention against the deep-seated metaphysics of singularity, clarity, logic, and presence.” The day of the Art Show opening, the gallery representative on hand reported that they were still deliberating on the price of the work.