New York

Les Levine

Anna Canepa Gallery

I can’t imagine what it is like to be a second-generation lyrical abstractionist field painter just beginning to explore surface texture, but I bet it’s less depressing than being yet another artist engaged in another resurrection of some lame Duchampian gesture, and always for the purpose of explaining it away as just art. I look forward to the next Les Levine mock-art situation with even less hope than I do the next batch of thick paintings. I expect the same product from both: not art, really, but some kind of unconsidered, nebulous “activity”—small deviations from over-processed “ideas” learned from art books and magazines.

This time Levine pours 250 jumbo boxes of cornflakes onto the floor. I don’t know how far in advance this was planned, so I cannot say if it was meant as a parody of De Maria’s ton-of-dirt piece last November. But it certainly comes off as a weak gesture in that direction. Levine has already done this one before (as De Maria had done his), when it was purported to have a serious “ecological” nature. In the ’60s, almost anything could be rationalized with semi-radical jargon. In 1969, Levine wrote that the cornflakes “should be left on the site so that they may disintegrate by natural processes.” The floor at Anna Canepa was probably just swept up at the end, and the cornflakes made their way to the bottom of the Hudson, or to the shelf off New Jersey—this being a highly unnatural process, I’d say. The “primary aim” of the original activity was to “let nature redigest its own materials. The interaction between the environment and the materials is organic. In time, nature will collate the cornflakes with the soil.” What he created instead, as anyone can see from the “documentation” in Artforum (November 1969, p. 49), was a “real” allover field painting—green grass sprinkled with light ochre flakes, which were scattered equally but randomly about a city square block.

In terms of the original proposition and intention, the latest instance strikes me as even sillier, and more concerned with its art status, which is even less interesting than the interaction of soil and cornflakes. The real action this time was Levine’s verbal persuasion of an art collector that his piece was “art.” This dialogue was taped and played in the room with the cornflakes. It was not clear to me whether the art collector was herself already convinced of the cornflakes’ art status, or if she was trying to persuade herself by sounding as if she were persuading us. In any event, rather than the piece justifying its own presence, Levine, in order to erect a façade of antiart guilt, felt he had to justify this wishy-washy scattering in the most elaborate way.

Anyone who regularly visits galleries will be of one of two minds about the cornflakes. They will either seem so old-hat that the question of art will not apply, or they will seem mildly amusing (for those more sheltered viewers). Even this last group will not be familiar with the attitude, which borders on being harmless farce. Pouring cornflakes onto a floor is as undirected, senseless and useless as, say, painting (as an activity), but not necessarily equally valuable. There is no hint in it of what such flippancy replaces, because the only history recalled is that which has already proven that anything can be art, if we call it art. The conclusion is that Levine meant this piece only for the most uninformed of audiences.

Jeff Perrone