Los Angeles

Les Levine

Molly Barnes Gallery

Les Levine is more (or less) than an artist; he’s an operative, a set-breaker dealing with expectations and removals, real time and phenomena in general. His calling card, “New from Les Levine,” has a department store banality and his press releases are integral to his works (usually having the form of events). Levine, especially in “Paint,” challenges us not with “It’s interesting, but is it art?” but rather with, “Sure it’s art, but is it interesting?” Needing the backdrop of art as much as any painter or sculptor, “Paint” is more interesting taken in the context of art rather than the world as a whole. “Paint’s” significance (that information, not esthetics, is the business of art) is achieved only in the virginally white gallery setting, in a boarded-off rectangle on the floor.

(From the release): “ ‘Paint’ consists of pouring a gallon of different colors of paint into a trough on the floor of the gallery until thirty gallons are poured, each gallon adding a new color. An automatic camera will photograph the proceedings and these photographs will become the works of a “‘Paint’ is a show of wet paint. It has not been turned into a painting. The photographs here are information concerning the act of pouring out the paint. No object results from the work, ‘PAINT’. The only residual is information about process and experience. At the end of the show the thirty gallons of paint on the floor will be removed and destroyed.” The release, as informative as the photos, explains the intent: “In an energy-based system such as our society, the only thing that can be considered of artistic value is that which uses energy or that which expresses energy; thus, the productive activity involved in the act of making a work of art is of more value than the result of the production. The experience of seeing something first hand is no longer a value in a software-controlled society. Knowing what happened is the same as seeing it. Works presented in this form are part of an open system in which the viewer confronting the information concerning the work of art must create the experience of the art for himself.” Shades of Jackson Pollock!

I have a few objections. 1) The system is so inclusive that it rules out nothing, therefore defines nothing. Flemish miniatures and Disney movies “use” and “express” energy; 2) The “expression of energy” as the only thing of artistic value is antithetical to an “open system” and is old-hat manifesto stuff; 3) Art is hardly “hardware” as Levine implies. Anyway, there are obviously better “information systems” than art; one wonders not at the breakaway, but at the remaining umbilical cord to “art.” We are at a point where art is being replaced by literature about art. It might be just another cycle of jargon; artists used to want to sound like club fighters, then like behavioral psychologists, and now like Rocketdyne employees. Basing art on “information systems” is an attempt to get rid of the middleman (the art object) and to get directly at what counts—the head of the audience.

Peter Plagens