New York

Leslie Hewitt, Riffs on Real Time (6 of 10), 2013, C-print, 30 x 40".

Leslie Hewitt, Riffs on Real Time (6 of 10), 2013, C-print, 30 x 40".

Leslie Hewitt

Leslie Hewitt, Riffs on Real Time (6 of 10), 2013, C-print, 30 x 40".

Leslie Hewitt’s artwork has remained admirably consistent since she began exhibiting around a decade ago, still strongly exuding intelligence and revealing the artist’s knack for mining the aesthetic possibilities of a given image. Replete with ideas about memory, iconography, representations of race, and models of display, her formally relaxed practice stands as a thought-provoking engagement with pictures en abyme. Typically, Hewitt arranges printed materials, photos, and the occasional object into assemblages, photographs them in her studio, and displays the works both on and leaning against gallery walls. Having pursued a line of inquiry so intrepidly for years, Hewitt continued these endeavors and slightly expanded upon them in her first exhibition at Sikkema Jenkins & Co.

A clothbound book, a rumpled sheet of programming code, and a dog-eared 1976 issue of Ebony lie on the wooden floor of Hewitt’s studio in each of the photographs in “Riffs on Real Time,” 2002–, acting as a support for small pictures. Shot from above, these arrangements contain juxtapositions both mellifluous and piquant. In Riffs on Real Time (6 of 10), 2013, a photo of a blankly modern office building lies above a print showing a Levittown-like housing development. The latter image is an aerial shot, recalling the downward perspective of Hewitt’s own camera. In Riffs on Real Time (3 of 10), 2013, an aged vacation snapshot of Mount Rushmore partially occludes a textbook page discussing the massacre at Kent State. But this tableau doesn’t only recall the horrors of that campus shooting; it obliquely evokes an accumulation of atrocities committed under the auspices of the US government.

In Hewitt’s work, the most pertinent moments are not those evoked by her historical ephemera, not bygone instants, but those experienced by the artist herself, in her studio; her implementation of repetition and personal imagery invokes the experience of daily life and specifically that of an artist at work. This notion of time passing is handsomely conjured by the way in which the lighting—an admixture of available and artificial—registers differently in each of Hewitt’s images, suggesting a temporal stutter in the series. Also changing from work to work is the section of well-worn studio floor visible beneath her assemblages of books and photos, revealing movement around the space.

In the “Still Life” series, 2013, in which the photographs are displayed within pristine, tilted maple box-frames (a Hewitt signature), she brings into focus the morphing of images in a studio into object-like artworks shown in a gallery. In Untitled (Perception), 2013, the block of maple that rests atop a stack of three books, the only identifiable one being an influential collection of James Baldwin’s essays, matches the work’s wooden frame (which acts more like a cradle than like a traditional picture frame). A particularly placed lemon with a wedge removed nods to Dutch vanitas paintings, yet the effect achieved is perhaps one of another art-historical moment, an ethos of Mannerism—evidenced in the work’s defiance of how a photograph should act. Also in repose nearby was an untitled work comprising two free-floating walls leaning against the gallery architecture. Sculpturally akin to a clunky John McCracken or a slightly tipsy column by Anne Truitt, these ersatz Minimalist objects are in fact made of drywall and wood and were modeled on the texture and size of the gallery walls. They assert a content-free physicality that surprisingly harmonized with the rest of the exhibition’s pictorial and physical material. Hewitt’s strength in melding content, execution, and presentation was obvious throughout the exhibition; uniting her keen sense of image-making with efforts to draw attention to the constructed spaces that surround us, this exhibition pointed in a generative new direction.

Beau Rutland