New York

Barry Le Va

Sonnabend Gallery

Barry Le Va’s work is self-containing, self-defining, self-referring, self-questioning and self-answering. It lays down guidelines and plans according to strict information, but withholds enough of the essential facts to be, in essence, a challenge to the viewer. Those who don’t want to be challenged will probably face the work as purely visual information, linear, Minimal pieces with the artist’s inherent logic showing through.

Those who have followed his work from the early experiments with distribution and process up to the present will probably leap to the challenge of discerning the inner workings of this installation. On the trail of the “solution” to Le Va’s visual problem, this insatiably curious viewer will pass from the installation to the drawings, and possibly to the working sketches of the piece. With this research done, and a tight grasp on abstract perception, the work becomes self-revelatory; implied boundaries appear, broken lines reassemble. The viewer has discovered the plan, and stumbles into the inner circle of knowledge reserved for Le Va fans who know what the work is all about.

It’s no surprise that Le Va’s fascination with mystery and clues has been discovered and discussed in the past. Certainly these installations still retain much of the flavor of detective work—handing out clues only as rewards for coming up with an answer. Not one to make it any easier for the struggling viewer, Le Va maintains the position of the Zen master; longing for communication, yet withholding the answers in favor of the student’s own discovery of the solution. For work that is so intensely secretive, it is also totally dependent on communication. Nothing is gained if the viewer can’t penetrate beyond the obvious obstacles to reconstruct the point of view and boundaries in the piece. While Le Va would prefer viewers not to consult the working sketches or even the drawings, most will need their guidance.

The work appears as a series of arrangements of thin wooden strips on the floor. At various sharp angles, long lengths lie next to cross pieces grouped together at intervals. Some are shorter than others, some protrude directly from the wall, others do not. In the corners of the gallery, wide planks are angled catty-corner from wall to wall. Singly, or in twos or threes, their height from the floor and their extension length from the ceiling are strictly determined. At intervals, wide masonite boards are mounted on the walls themselves. Working backward, we assimilate the information from titles and drawings in the next room and from the brief statement issued by the artist. The title: A continuance . . . (accumulated vision—blocked)—is the first clue. The text (“Three Boundaries: . . . whose sides cut through the corners of these gallery spaces where indicated”) gives a major clue—Le Va would hope we could stop here. In fact, this much information, reiterated in the drawing captions, gives a fairly full idea of what is happening with the wood pieces in the gallery space.

We know a representation is taking place, that it is strictly ordered and measured and therefore can be reconstructed. We accept the fact that each piece belongs to and performs a function in Le Va’s scheme of things. We may even be able to start reconstructing the shapes of the boundaries mentioned—“within a Triangle within a Quadrangle within a Quadrangle.” But the crucial piece of information is the underlined position of viewing. Specifically located, the positioning refers to a phantom viewer, arbitrarily moving along the outside borders of the entire space, locating key reference points within the space. Through his eyes, from his all-important point of view, the corner angles are perceived and distorted, laying the groundwork for the variations in the formation of each shape (“. . each boundary separately projected”). Logic and reason pervade his conclusions, dictate his perceptions.

But the key to the logic and reason is held by the artist, and undermining the gap between the phantom viewer and the artist’s control over him is the toughest task the real viewer has to face. Objectively removed, Le Va offers his brief explanations, installs the piece, and leaves it to the viewers in the hope that they will come up with the answers, which, after all, have been there all the time.

Deborah Perlberg