San Francisco

Barry Le Va

Daniel Weinberg Gallery

It’s not a conscious aversion to the arts, or contemporary art, but a natural shying away from things that smack of elitism as opposed to populism (this is a strong labor town). San Franciscans love culture veering toward the camp, jaded pleasures of fashion and immediate pleasures of rock music. Other than that, the theatricality of opera keeps it popular, hanging on as the vestige of glittery anachronistic absurdity that it is. No coincidence that rock superentrepreneur Bill Graham is sponsoring a huge benefit concert for those basketball coaches. No coincidences or surprises then that people can’t respond to Barry Le Va’s work. Aside from the surface chic emptiness, people peer in at the installation, take the cursory view, and turn away without any idea that there is something more, something that is not contained in the pieces of wood “ randomly” distributed around the room. This work from another world is spare and quiet, but not mystic, an essential for San Franciscans to complement their contemplation. Le Va’s work presents great difficulty in these surroundings, but its serene intelligence can be as satisfying and real as Serra’s aggressive physicality is to our southern neighbors.

All the things one might say about Le Va in 1970 could still apply now: preoccupation with chance, homogeneity of material, closeness to the floor, now extended to the walls. The chance aspects have been harnessed within a circular superstructure; small wood pieces defining center point and larger pieces placed at tangents appear on the floor and walls and we are asked to fill in the circles they imply. This is an ingenious mind exercise, and I had a good time figuring out what was happening. Looking at the installation drawings though, I was confronted with a very different set of circles. Before that, I traced out several circles which came out into the space of the room; the most interesting plays of lines described circles in three dimensions, some being planes leaned against the wall, remind ing me of a dematerialized Serra. This was the most arresting and challenging aspect I found, but apparently Le Va didn’t have it in mind. I can’t fault him for my perceptions, but I wished he had integrated the systematization of the circles and the randomness of the placements (that is, tangent points were chosen in no rational way). Mixing mathematics and chance as Le Va doe s can be successful if the process is simple enough to be perceived; this installation is a bit too complex and you can’t separate your own (incorrect) circles from his “correct” ones.

The use of raw wood gives the room a Minimal, elegant look exactly as Le Va intends and the anonymity helps the conceptual nature of the piece to be “ drawn” out. But the wood as material doesn’t seem to mean much outside of its Minimalness. But that wood placed next to the excesses of so much other work which is the staple diet of a Bay Area resident suddenly takes on connotations that Le Va couldn’t possibly foresee; it’s an antidote for the noisy, busy, shiny finished Realists and the overly personal, cluttered Zen collagists which fill the museums to the delight of so many.

Jeff Perrone