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William Leavitt: Theater Objects at MOCA Grand Avenue

  |   2011

The Museum of Contemporary Art (MOCA) presents William Leavitt: Theater Objects, the first solo museum exhibition and retrospective of the work of Los Angeles-based artist William Leavitt (b. 1941, Washington, D.C.). Surveying the artist’s multifaceted 40-year career, the exhibition will include sculptural tableaux, paintings, works on paper, photographs, and performances drawn from the late ’60s to the present.

One of the most significant and influential figures working in Los Angeles, Leavitt has created a remarkable oeuvre that has influenced generations of artists. MOCA has long been committed to celebrating the art of this city through monographic exhibitions of local artists, and this exhibition, which examines the artist’s extraordinary contributions, is both long overdue and highly anticipated.

A key figure associated with the emergence and foundations of conceptual art in Los Angeles during the late 1960s and 1970s, Leavitt is primarily concerned with narrative and its forms. His works employ fragments of popular and vernacular culture and modernist architecture to produce narratives that are simultaneously disjunctive and achingly familiar. The culture and atmosphere of Los Angeles has played a significant role in Leavitt’s ongoing interest in “the theater of the ordinary” and the play between illusion and reality, nature and artifice that characterizes the city. William Leavitt: Theater Objects will assemble approximately 90 works from 1969 to the present, and will embrace the full range of Leavitt’s media and subjects in order to represent the artist’s exceptionally cohesive oeuvre.

“William Leavitt gets Los Angeles in a very particular way,” said MOCA Curator Bennett Simpson. “Not just the mass production of fantasy, but the off-moments, the stillness, certain tones and feelings. People will see their city and their lives in his work.”

Presented throughout 10,000 square feet of exhibition space at MOCA Grand Avenue, the individual galleries within the exhibition will be anchored by key installations, surrounded by related works drawing out significant themes. Early installations such as Forest Sound (1970) and California Patio (1972) lay the ground for the artist’s career-long engagement with stagecraft, narrative, and theater, especially as these relate to images of the Los Angeles landscape. Many of Leavitt’s individual works—whether installations or drawings and paintings—are conceived in relation to plays or performances which may be staged or which may remain hypothetical. Other works exude Leavitt’s particular vision of his city: noir, modern, quietly existential.

Over the years, many of Leavitt’s plays have been produced in Los Angeles theaters and art spaces. MOCA will stage two of his performance works in conjunction with the exhibition. Spectral Analysis (1977) will be performed in the galleries within the set-like installation on view as an autonomous work in the exhibition; Pyramid, Lens, Delta (2003) will be premiered as a table reading in the Ahmanson Auditorium at MOCA Grand Avenue.

Co-curated by MOCA Curator Bennett Simpson and Ann Goldstein, former MOCA senior curator and director of the Stedelijk Museum in Amsterdam, William Leavitt: Theater Objects will be accompanied by a
fully illustrated catalogue featuring an introduction by Goldstein, essays by art historian Annette Leddy and Simpson, an interview with the artist by artist-writer Erik Bluhm, a selected artist’s exhibition history and bibliography, and a complete checklist of the exhibition, constituting a comprehensive scholarly overview and examination of the artist’s career.

About The Artist

William Leavitt was born in Washington, D.C., in 1941, and spent his childhood in west Kansas. He earned his B.A. from the University of Colorado, Boulder, in 1963, and his M.F.A. from Claremont Graduate School, California, in 1967. Leavitt is an important figure among the first generation of Conceptual artists—including Bas Jan Ader, Michael Asher, John Baldessari, Bruce Nauman, Allen Ruppersberg, Edward Ruscha, and William Wegman—that emerged in Los Angeles during the late 1960s and 1970s, and has been a major contributor to the literary, theatrical, and narrative strains of conceptualism to develop in the city. Emerging a decade before the so-called “Pictures generation,” which immediately grasped his attention to television, cinema, and mass-produced imagery, Leavitt’s influence is keenly felt in the work of Jack Goldstein, Mike Kelly, Sherri Levine, Richard Prince, David Salle, and James Welling. Since his first solo exhibition at the Eugenia Butler Gallery, Los Angeles, in 1970, Leavitt’s work has been seen consistently in Los Angeles, New York, and European galleries, and is currently represented by Margo Leavin Gallery, Los Angeles. His work has also been featured in numerous important museum exhibitions, including Los Angeles 1955–1985: The birth of an art capital (2006), Centre Pompidou, Paris; In & Out of Amsterdam: Travels in Conceptual Art, 1960–1976 (2009), The Museum of Modern Art, New York; Reconsidering the Object of Art: 1965–1975 (1995–6) and INDEX: Conceptualism in California from the Permanent Collection (2008), The Museum of Contemporary Art, Los Angeles. Leavitt has taught at California Institute of the Arts; the University of California, Los Angeles; Immaculate Heart College; Otis Art Institute; and Marymount College and has received numerous awards and honors, including an NEA Fellowship for New Genres (1991), a J. Paul Getty Fellowship (1993) and a Guggenheim Grant (1998). William Leavitt lives and works in Los Angeles.

William Leavitt: Theater Objects is made possible by lead support from Amy Adelson and Dean Valentine.

Major support is provided by The Andy Warhol Foundation for the Visual Arts. Generous additional support is provided by Fundación Jumex, Teiger Foundation, Karyn Kohl and MOCA Happy House, Margo Leavin Gallery, John Baldessari, Edward Israel, John Morace and Tom Kennedy, Steven F. Roth Family Foundation, The Danielson Foundation, and Rosette Delug.

MOCA Grand Avenue
250 South Grand Avenue Los Angeles, CA 90012
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