Barry Le Va: The Sculptural Aftermath

Maizels, Michael William, Department of History of Art and Architecture, University of Virginia
Singerman, Howard, Department of History of Art and Architecture, University of Virginia

In the late 1960s, the artist Barry Le Va (b. 1941) began to use such nontraditional materials as shattered glass, spent bullets, sound recordings, scattered flour and even sharpened meat cleavers to execute a striking body of ephemeral sculptures. Taking inspiration from popular crime novels as well as contemporary art theory, Le Va conceived of these works as a kind of aesthetic aftermath. He charged his viewers to act like detectives at a crime scene, attempting to decipher an order underlying the apparent chaos. This dissertation will provide the first monographic treatment of Le Va's career, examining four critical phases of his art and their relationship to various cultural, political and intellectual currents. In addition to building on Le Va's ongoing rediscovery-major works have recently been acquired by MOMA, the Yale University Art Museum and the National Gallery (Washington, DC), this dissertation contributes to the ongoing reevaluation of the art of the late 1960s. Le Va's work constitutes a particularly suitable object of inquiry because it weaves together, in a uniquely articulate way, many of the period's most historically significant themes. Le Va's assemblages of shattered glass, spent bullets and scattered flour attest to the ways in which the pervasive distrust of hallowed art objects, orthodox politics and scientific objectivity figured one another. Additionally, this dissertation uses Le Va's work to assess the ways in which challenging, ephemeral art from the late 1960s and 1970s has been incorporated into the official institutions of the art world. As many such works were intended to put pressure on the traditional durability of the art object, their reconstruction in museum settings raises questions about the artist's involvement in the reconstructive process, the use of iv period materials and the status of the work's "originality" that are worthy of careful consideration. Because Le Va's work has always been about the complex nature of reconstruction-he repeatedly exhorted his viewers to follow the pattern of the detective at a crime scene and reconstruct a past event out of its fragmentary remains-Le Va's work is a uniquely appropriate entry point into such questions.

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PHD (Doctor of Philosophy)
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