Critics’ Picks

William Leavitt, The small laboratory, 2015, mixed media, dimensions variable.

William Leavitt, The small laboratory, 2015, mixed media, dimensions variable.

Los Angeles

William Leavitt

Honor Fraser
2622 S. La Cienega Blvd.
January 16–February 20, 2016

A sci-fi laboratory and a suburban patio weirdly mingle in William Leavitt’s installation The small laboratory (all works 2015). Both a sculpture and a set for an as yet unpublished play, the work includes a bit of repurposed rattan crowning a mysterious black obelisk, while nearby, a long, clear cylinder bubbles milky liquid, and terra-cotta-potted tropical houseplants brush against copper-spray-painted found objects naked with wires. In the background, plastic tubes are topped with the kind of painted spheroid most commonly found in grade-schoolers’ models of the solar system. The installation is lit with standing theatrical lights and sound tracked by an electronically manipulated cello, and the strangest thing here—despite how utterly ordinary it would be otherwise—is the standard American accouterment of an outdoor barbecue, blowing a faux flame.

Leavitt’s “theater objects” live in a twilit midcentury modern atmosphere, optimistic about the sinister science that makes such bright plentitude possible. His narrative paintings, installations, and plays draw from a Southern California domestic aesthetic of hillside real estate and nuclear families buzzing with nuclear power, or rocket scientists at cocktail parties in suburban faux-pastoral drag. While the artist’s contemporaries Larry Bell, Robert Irwin, and Ken Price made LA all look like Venice Beach, with candy flake skins and trippy translucence, Leavitt’s LA is up in the hills of Silver Lake, populated by glass boxes with stone patios by Neutra peeking through the shrubbery.

Alongside The small laboratory, the artist has curated a group show at the gallery, including work by Janet Jenkins, Raúl Guerrero, Katy Crowe, and three of the artist’s own pale and soft paintings. Giving off a cool richness, the promise and menace of the future looks bathed in dusk light.