Les Levine

Fischbach Gallery

“I want the work to be free of visual references because they are related to the idea of contemplation and I want a work that one can experience as one goes through it without having to ‘look’ at it. The spaces in the piece are constantly opening and closing as the spectator passes through it, so that one is constantly being physically reminded of one’s size, how one walks, and how one’s senses react to space.” These small, guileless reflections, spurred by Les Levine’s Clean Machine and Numbers Racket, are platitudes which have been insisted on ever since the secularization of art, but with particular vengeance since the advent of Pop. This does not mean that Levine’s assertions are wrong but only that they no longer vitally reveal fine critical issues—the ones that Levine himself prevaricates upon.

Levine—one of an IBM multitude—hypostatizes on utter neutrality (hence, “the idea of contemplation“—the myth of the Symposium roosts anew). Very arrestingly, therefore, he attempts an art which exists linguistically out of a computed abecedario but which fails to successfully exist in tangible terms. In short, Levine has mounted a stage set insisting all the while that 1) we do not regard his theater and 2) there is no theater to regard. But there is, a Kelvinator world of Mr. Clean sterility transposed to its most romantic physical situation the carnival fun house with its hall of crazy mirrors. This schizophrenic interdependence is, if nothing else, fascinating, while the forms of the architectural set-up fail to be. The Clean Machine is a milieu raised out of “pressure-formed uvex, a cellulose acetate butyrate plastic” (the incantatory notation is exemplary). Each individual element is 4 feet by 6 feet and distantly resembles, in a slick and smoothly articulated way, the door of a moderne refrigerator. These elements have been set up as a simple, suffocating corridor which hugs the walls of the gallery. Apart from the glossy chill and new plastic odor, the paranoid intentions (Levine may deny this) of the walls bespeak an unintentional Surrealism—there is a high increment of George Tooker in all of this, a poetical serpent lost in a datafied world. Etched by the aleatory principles endemic in today’s art production Levine very consciously affected the least artful solution to the arrangement of the sixty plastic modules (thereby cheating on the aleatory at the same stroke). The spectator is invited to determine according to his own taste the combination he would most prefer—on a sheet, available for a fee, either of a mass edition or a set of four limited ones—Numbers Racket.

While I regard Levine’s effort as deeply torpid, I am convinced by his topical didacticism. To clobber him with his own words is perhaps unsporting. In consequence, despite Levine’s assurances to the contrary, let me only add that the work is filled with external “visual references,” and it is, as all work is, “related to the idea of contemplation.” As for experiencing a work without “looking,” well, walk down any street, anywhere, and one can pretend as much.

Robert Pincus-Witten