Los Angeles

Barry Le Va, Diagrammatic Silhouettes: Sculptured Activities (Black Stress), 1987, ink on paper collage, 80 x 80".

Barry Le Va, Diagrammatic Silhouettes: Sculptured Activities (Black Stress), 1987, ink on paper collage, 80 x 80".

Barry Le Va

Marc Selwyn Fine Art

Barry Le Va, Diagrammatic Silhouettes: Sculptured Activities (Black Stress), 1987, ink on paper collage, 80 x 80".

Although best known for his sprawling sculptural investigations, Barry Le Va has consistently made works on paper throughout his varied career. During the 1960s and ’70s, these usually took the form of plans for three-dimensional installations; often depicted from an aerial perspective, they would lay out complex distributions of items such as ball bearings, felt, aluminum, and chalk across gallery floors. But of the six works that were on display in “Large Scale Collages: 1985–1991,” only two follow this strategy: Study for Sculpture Occupying 2 Area. CPE/Reading Beckett; Reading Bernard #1, 1991, and Sculptured Activities (Entrance-Exit with Abscessed Plan), 1988–89. The other four evince a unique approach to drawing-as-collage that Le Va did not initiate until the late ’80s.

One of the most curious features of these four latter abstract works is the smattering of small puncture holes across their surfaces. These dozens of pinholes are, in fact, the traces of a temporal process of arrangement and montage: They are the result of Le Va provisionally tacking cut-and-colored paper segments to numerous places on the collages’ massive sheets of paper. Only when he has settled upon a final composition does he remove the tacks and glue the paper fragments down. Le Va’s technique might initially call to mind the working practices of Piet Mondrian in the early 1940s; for example, the latter’s use of tape in the “New York City” series, 1941–44, and of paper strips in his unfinished final work, Victory Boogie-Woogie, 1943–44. But while Le Va created his own collages with a similar sense of testing, manipulating, and even living with his compositions over time, they exceed the limits of such modernist pictorial experiments. Instead, they parallel the ultimate upending of those aesthetic concerns in Le Va’s own installations of radically dispersed matter, which confound sculpture and ground, substance and form. Le Va derived the elemental forms that compose each collage from silhouettes of his sculptures from the late ’80s, which similarly distribute objects around the gallery, using chunky metal beams with spheres placed in their channels rather than the more ephemeral materials of his earlier work. The individual pieces of the collages are thus visual refractions of Le Va’s contemporaneous sculpture as seen from varying angles and distances, while the process for making the final works corresponds to that of these same installations.

“Most artists see collages as a painting notion,” Le Va once commented; “I don’t because I see collages basically as a building notion.” In keeping with Le Va’s initial training in architecture, these collages indeed picture a “building notion,” but one that fashions planar relationships whose enmeshed perspectival systems could not be uniformly translated back into the three-dimensional space of the gallery. If his installations of scattered objects are famous for their use of clue-like traces to challenge viewers to reconstruct the artist’s process, collage, within Le Va’s practice, is an investigation of more manifold relations between forms. Everything in a work such as Diagrammatic Silhouettes: Sculptured Activities (Choke Off), 1985, relies on negative space, subtractive processes, and shifting spatial orientations: The cut-paper fragments are derived from preexisting objects and each underlying colored line is the result of the artist removing masking tape after rolling the eighty-four-by-sixty-inch field with paint. The “diagram” here is a network of multiple inputs, but it is not an abstract projection of some real world apart. Instead, Le Va’s collages are themselves resolutely material, in an undoing of the diagram’s rational form. Le Va may “build” these works, yet what results is not scalable structures that could be transplanted to the street. Instead, they are models for the ever-changing and ever-refracting relations that one finds there.

James Nisbet