Max Protetch Gallery is pleased to announce an exhibition of new work by Eli Levenstein. The exhibition will take place in the gallery's Project Space, and will be on view from July 1 through July 30. This, Levenstein's first New York solo exhibition, will feature a chandelier that is at once an object, an environment, and a critical reassessment of the ways in which qualifying terms like 'art', 'design', and 'utility' are used.
By creating furniture that also radically re-evaluates utility, Levenstein is able to expand the conceptual reach of functional objects, incorporating what might be understood as purely aesthetic gestures into their very reason for being. For instance, the chandelier, whose light bulbs are connected via wiring painted with industrial insulating paint, becomes a three-dimensional drawing in space. The wiring, then, serves not only its practical purpose of supplying the bulbs with power, but also as a kind of abstract rendering of what wiring looks like when it interacts with architecture. It serves both a mimetic and a utilitarian function.
Historically and philosophically, this crossing of genres at a genetic level recalls both an ancient sense of craftsmanship as well as more modern interpretations of a guild-like mentality, such as those exemplified by the Bauhaus and the proponents of Art Nouveau; as well as more contemporary figures like Scott Burton. However, in Levenstein's case, one also finds the unlikely influence of seemingly contradictory trends in 20th century artistic practice like Abstract Expressionism or Arte Povera. The latter can most clearly be seen in the artist's choice of materials and the way in which the work is finished. In the piece on view, the dimmer switch mechanism has been built into a standalone cardboard form that can easily be regarded as a separate sculptural object.
Putting materials to unexpected uses is one of the trademarks of Levenstein's work and it exemplifies the fluidity with which he moves through different techniques and disciplines. In some cases, as with the industrial paint with which he covers the wiring for the chandelier, the material is used for its intended purpose as well as a new (in this case decorative) one. Another layer of reference is added by the fact that the wiring seems to have been woven to create a viscerally sculptural effect. Here, in the gestures of a maker of furniture, the activities of the electrician, the tailor, the carpenter and the sculptor coalesce, resulting in a portrait, an index, of the ways in which a body can interact with the material universe.
Eli Levenstein's work is currently on view at MASS MoCA, where he designed a reading room in conjunction with Material World: Sculpture to Environment, an exhibition that runs through February 27, 2011. He has worked in numerous furniture and architecture studios, has been commissioned to create objects and environments for a diverse range of cultural and commercial contexts, and in 2009 received an MFA in Furniture Design from the Rhode Island School of Design. He lives and works in New York.