The cubicle-sized Jancar Jones gallery perfectly accommodates William Leavitt’s three hundred index cards, thumb-tacked into three neat grids. Each card contains something between a scribble and a drawing, encompassing an almost encyclopedic range of objects and concepts. These have been arranged in no particular order (except according to size) and include pictograms for, among other things, a pyramid, a chess piece, what appears to be the graph of an algorithm, a sphinx, a telescope, an oracle, a ferret (the list goes on). For those unfamiliar with the work of the Los Angeles-based artist, the overall effect might initially read as willfully oblique (though they might still notice the artful coinciding between the scale of the work and its space of exhibition).
Also available for perusal is the script for the obscurely titled play, “Pyramid Lens Delta,” which incorporates these images at random. The dramatic action reads like Beckett via found objects, but that doesn't feel all that illuminating either. Of course, others might more readily recognize in the arbitrary absurdity of the play and the cards a key undercurrent in work of this impish artist, who cut his teeth poking fun at tiresome deadpan of a canonized Minimalism in the early seventies. Beginning with the notorious Landslide, a satirical art journal in collaboration with Bas Jan Ader and continuing through his varied efforts, from the partial sets and installations of domestic interiors to his watercolor paintings and drawings, chance has been integral in shaping Leavitt’s practice, offering a titillating mode for unraveling the logic of meaning—whether it’s the tiresome dogma of art criticism (cough), or the domestic middle class clichés of Hollywood.
Though he has always been ambivalent about the connection, the exhibition’s focus on chance and diminutive ephemera can’t help but evoke the legacy of Fluxus, as well as the absurdist word poems of Zurich Dada—the bureaucratic anxiety of Kafka also comes to mind. Of course, each of these might be suspect connections, which might not sit too well with Leavitt who has always been intent on troubling facile art historical theorizing (an irony if there ever was one for someone largely known as a conceptual artist). Luckily, even if we set aside these concerns, the show still offers an intimate glimpse into the working process of this enigmatic artist. Referred to as “a deck,” the cards unfold as a loose and nonsensical narrative which is punctuated by moments of illegibility but also unexpected poetry. Transcribing them is a somewhat futile exercise, and that's part of the point. This is an abbreviated, but fascinating look at Leavitt's work, and timely one, considering the retrospective MOCA has planned this November. We hope that the forthcoming show unfolds with the same deliberate economy that cleverly maximizes space.
- Franklin Melendez
All images courtesy the artist and Jancar Jones.