Houston

Ange Leccia

Contemporary Arts Museum Houston

Ange Leccia says his work falls somewhere “between Jackson Pollock and Piet Mondrian,” referring to the former’s frenetic energy and the latter’s ordered precision. Each piece in this sprawling but thematically concise show bore the laconic title Arrangement (as do all his works), a direct reference to the artist’s technique of “arranging” objects or events while drawing from installation art, performance, sculpture, video, “art photography,” and documentation. Past Arrangements included filling a gallery with police motorcycles, placing bulldozers in a face-off in front of a neoclassical building, and positioning Concorde jets nose-to-nose at Charles de Gaulle Airport, as well as the Cibachromes documenting these events. Because many of these works make conspicuous use of spanking-new, brand-name consumer products, Leccia has been lumped with the “commodity artists” of the ’80s. He now seems to be phasing out products qua products, making it clear he’s a formalist at heart.

In the first half of the show, technology and the great outdoors collide. In a deadpan 1990 Cibachrome, the white wake of an enormous ship recedes like a Barnett Newman “zip” into the horizon. A work from 1987 documenting side-by-side ships in New York Harbor posits the zip as the thin vertical space between the hulls. In a 15-foot-high video projection of waves crashing against the coastline of the artist’s native Corsica, Leccia shifts the image 90 degrees so that the surf moves up and down rather than sideways, the slow-pulsing sinusoidal curves suggesting animated Morris Louis veils.

Preserved in a pair of striking mural photographs, a mock battle staged by a military contractor to sell helicopters to the French government becomes a “found event.” Violence turns geometric as a stately procession of orange explosions rips across the lush countryside near Valmy, France. In counterpoint to these plumes of smoke, cylindrical stacks of film canisters in a work from 1992 recall the integers of Minimalist sculpture and the towers of a modern skyline. Tape recordings of well-known movies and television shows—from The African Queen, 1951, to Twin Peaks, 1990—reverberate from inside the hollowed-out stacks, merging into dissonant, audio-action painting.

Leccia’s debt to Pollock and Mondrian suggests that his work also has a mystical or quasi-mystical basis: Pollock was influenced by Carl Jung and Mondrian by the theosophists. Leccia seems less interested in secular Marxist agendas than in probing a postindustrial environment for presages of the apocalypse. On a video screen glimpsed through a hole punched in a wall of Orwellian cinder blocks, Maria Callas takes the same breath over and over in slow motion, and in a related work of 1990 she’s reduced to redundant images on ragged film strips. In both these works Leccia treats the diva’s voice as an absence, as having vanished into the abyss. In the show’s final Arrangement, 1992, crushed cinder blocks inside a concrete “well” surrounded a glowing picture tube. The “message” one expected to see in the baleful light never materialized.

Tom Moody