New York

Barry Le Va

Bykert Gallery downtown

Barry Le Va’s work 12 to 3: Ends Touch-ends Cut (Zig-zag end over end), seems an interesting case of chaos and coherence, as if a metaphor for putting a construct on the world. The work is materially uncountable inch/half-inch sections cut from a 1 1/4” wooden dowel, all over the rough uneven floor of the new Bykert downtown gallery. It looks like a late ’60s scatter piece. However, the work is obviously the product of a system, and the fact of a system can be inferred from the work. But, grasping what system is determining the placement of dowel sections on the floor is extremely difficult. What I find most interesting in the work is this contrast between the obviousness of the existence of a system structuring the work, and the elusiveness of understanding the nature of the system in any precise way.

The most surprising bits of evidence for a system in the work are chalk marks on the floor, under or next to each dowel section. One could suppose that the placement of the dowel section preceded the chalk mark, but the obvious assumption is the converse. The recognition that the placement of all those dowel sections was predetermined was something of a shock for me. It was the second shock in the initial experience of the work, the first simply seeing the work. However, once the chalk marks are recognized, and a system inferred from them, the work really becomes absorbing—trying to bring coherence to it or to find the coherence Le Va put into the work. Straight line patterns could be perceived among the dowels as well as a progressive change in interval between the dowels forming a straight line. The question becomes whether the progression was an increase or a diminishment of interval, and at this point, the change could be read either way. Five longer dowel sections were also on the floor, from which one could infer that the other sections were cut. These longer sections with the progressive change in interval led to a general reconstruction of the system. Two sections were cut from the dowel and butted to either end of the remaining length of dowel on the floor, so the interval between each subsequent dowel section is a function of the length of the dowel after each cut. Thus, the interval between sections diminishes as the length of the dowel diminishes. The end of the progression is especially interesting as it doesn’t seem consistent with the amount of decrease between the other sections. The last dowel section is right up against the next to last section, with the inference that when only one dowel section is left, the dowel itself has no length. From this hypothesis, the system can be inferred for the formation of large rectangles around the gallery space, and inductively applied to the zigzags within and passing through the rectangles.

The zigzag configurations were almost impossible to pin down, and because they operated next to or through the rectangles, they made the rectangles more elusive. Patterns could be discerned everywhere, but they never seemed to add up to anything. The experience was something like recognizing the existence of patterns formed by the stars on a clear night, but being unable to identify what the patterns are. Grasping the specifics of Le Va’s system with any exactness is not, however, the point. This is not systemic art, or art that simply presents a tautologically closed, internal system. The system here is intentionally elusive and only generally identifiable. The existence of the system is known, but not the nature of it, or at least, not its exact nature. This situation is exactly the reverse of the situation in Le Va’s work in a group show at Yale this spring. In Intersection: Seven Circles, Three Varying Sizes (all tangent only to two opposite walls, none to both), the nature of the system is clear from the title, but it is impossible to understand how the system is manifested in the physical materials (small grinding stones) present on the floor. The circles indicated in the title are laid out in chalk, and 18 grinding stones placed at points of intersection. The chalk is then removed, and with it, any trace or clue as to where the circles are. This work is further complicated by the fact that in its installation at Yale, the walls don’t meet the floor, but remain a foot above it. Locating points of tangency is all but impossible—how can a circle that can’t be found on the plane of the floor be tangent to a wall that doesn’t even intersect that plane? In this case, we know what the system is, but we have no idea of how it corresponds with what’s on the floor.

Another aspect of the work at Bykert, apparently less systematic than intuitive, provides a surprise when one happens across it. After walking through the mazes of dowel sections, head down, stepping carefully, a section empty of dowel sections in one quarter of the gallery comes as sudden relief. Here it is possible to relax and move freely, and, from this space, it becomes clear how integral is the floor itself to the work. The dowel sections are guides to configurations, but the configurations are what happens between them. In another sense, there are no configurations at all, only bits of wood on the floor. They don’t form the patterns or configurations, we do. In the work at Yale, the grinding stones on the floor don’t even appear to form configurations of circles: we try to form them but can’t. The title tells us the circles are there, but the circles are not so much a matter of our belief as our understanding the possibility of their existence. It’s a matter of inference. If grinding stones mark points of intersection between circles theoretically on the plane of the floor, and if grinding stones are on the floor, then there are circles.

Bruce Boice