Sherrie Levine

Donald Young Gallery

Sherrie Levine’s work arouses a certain degree of wariness, a sense of elusive suspicion that can never quite be put to rest. Levine herself has done much to set up that scenario, creating work that can leave one in the position of being a dangling participant. She sends up our deep-seated attachment to the concept of the authentic and the original, as well as our hallowed hopes for traditional discourse and/or revelation in art. These qualities are rarely en-countered in the artist’s work, or, better, are found and exposed in a new light. Levine sometimes seems—all pejorative connotations aside—a negative force, whose work demonstrates how much can be gained through the loss of illusions.

This exhibition featured work from two of the ongoing series that have occupied Levine over the past few years. Since 1985, she has been framing variously sized sheets of unpainted plywood, altering them only by painting over the eye-shaped wooden plugs that replace their missing knots. This results in objects that are at once wistful and remarkably cool—in a kind of nostalgic art that is simultaneously immediate and absorbing. Levine is sensitive to the beauty inherent in the plywood, revealing the shimmer of its veining, the cascading ripples that time has etched into it. Her discreet covering of its “imperfections,” here rendered in lead-colored paint, elsewhere in gold or white, redeems it, restores it to a kind of purity. Even considering the sense of removal she attains by having the pre-existing plugs set her format, Levine’s interventions still provide pleasing solutions to these Gordian knots.

Less accessible to a revelatory reading are Levine’s more recent renditions of gameboards, rather small and dry paintings that show a checkerboard or chessboard placed above a backgammon board. Levine has titled the paintings in this series “Untitled (Lead Checks/Lead Chevrons),” all works 1988. In their present vertical state the gameboards are nonfunctional, as divorced from their original function as a men’s urinal set on its side. The works’ verticality opens up a straight reading of their geometrical design, of their existence as pure pattern. Then, too, these are not gameboards but paintings, almost wall sculptures, and the dry, dusty casein over the ponderous, somewhat battered lead surfaces reinforces the imposing sense of these being rendered things. Levine plays a bit with color here, variegating the series by painting the chevrons respectively in pleasing tones of brown, turquoise, gray, white, purple, and green. This sense of play aids the strange process of transformation that these pieces eventually undergo, from game boards to art objects to emblems to shields to trophies in an esthetic endgame.

James Yood