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Major survey of Barry Le Va's early work on view at Dia:Beacon
Barry Le Va installing Extended Vertex Meetings: Blocked; Blown Outward (1969–71) at Nigel Greenwood Gallery, London, 1971. © Barry Le Va. Courtesy the artist and David Nolan Gallery, New York.

BEACON, NY.- This fall, Dia Art Foundation presents a survey of early work by Barry Le Va at Dia:Beacon in Beacon, New York. The exhibition features several of the artist’s most important floor-based, site-responsive installations from the 1960s, using felt, aluminum bars, and ball bearings, as well as early works using glass, meat cleavers, and powder. Though seemingly random in their presentation, these radical works are rigorously planned and arranged, and offer a counterpoint to the stark geometry of his peers’ Minimal sculptures. The yearlong exhibition opened November 9, 2019.

Since the 1960s Le Va has been regarded as one of the leading practitioners of Postminimal and Process art. Alongside peers such as Robert Morris and Richard Serra, he renounced the contemporary mainstays of concrete form and geometry, embracing instead the concepts of dispersion, chance, and impermanence. Originally educated as an architect, Le Va ultimately abandoned his training to focus on his artistic practice. However, the question of how space is organized and produced continued to inform his work, even as he turned his attention to the remnants of the sculptural process. Arranging non precious materials such as felt and flour according to principles of order and disorder, Le Va’s scattered installations compel the viewer to consider this evidence of prior activity as they move through the gallery.

“From the very beginning of his artistic career, Le Va resisted traditional notions of composition and form. Instead of creating an object, he became concerned with the process of making itself, and especially with how discarded scraps of material could be harnessed to produce perceptual or psychological experiences,” said Jessica Morgan, Dia’s Nathalie de Gunzburg Director. “The works on display at Dia:Beacon will offer a comprehensive view of Le Va’s early practice, charting his move away from the strictly rigid and logical forms of Minimalism and toward a different mode of approaching sculpture and installation.”

The survey at Dia:Beacon includes a large powder dispersal that spans the entire width of one of Dia’s vast central galleries. Here to There; From There to Here (1969/2019) combines elements of two of the artist’s earliest works with powder: Omitted Section of a Section Omitted (1968–69), first presented in the 1969 exhibition Anti-Illusion: Procedures/Materials at the Whitney Museum of American Art in New York City; and 6 Blown Lines (Accumulation Drift) (1969), first presented in a 1969 solo exhibition at Stout State University (now the University of Wisconsin–Stout) in Menomonie. In Omitted Section of a Section Omitted, Le Va used flour to delineate a negative space across a gallery floor that spanned the width of an existing door frame. To produce 6 Blown Lines (Accumulation Drift), he poured linear segments of the same material onto the floor and then spread the powder into even drifts using an air compressor. At Dia Le Va joins similar waves to a more evenly distributed section of chalk whose dimensions also reflect a passageway into the gallery.

Four of Le Va’s works from his series of Layered Pattern Acts (conceived between 1968 and 1971) have also been included in this exhibition. For this series, sheets of geometrically stacked glass are smashed with a hammer, creating shards that endure as evidence of the destructive action. Like Le Va’s scatter pieces, three of which also are on view at Dia:Beacon, the Layered Pattern Acts are meticulously diagrammed in advance and then realized spontaneously on-site. These arrangements juxtapose hardness and softness, fixity and motion, spilling out of view in a vast horizontal sprawl.

In an adjoining gallery, the artist realized a wall-based installation from his Cleaver series, in which butcher knives are dramatically cleaved into the architecture of the gallery. As with his dispersals, the placement of the knives suggests the reach of the artist’s own body, inviting the viewer to imagine the process by which they became lodged into the wall. The result is an implied choreography of movement, method, and angle of attack. This implicit violence is not accidental. Le Va’s work, while not overtly political, considers violence and destruction in formal terms and highlights gesture, location, material, and structure.

“Le Va’s installations combine a rigorously methodical approach to material and form with a sense of mischievous danger,” said Alexis Lowry, Curator, Dia Art Foundation. “He leaves a series of spatialized clues to this process—from strewn scraps of felt to neatly organized metal rods—within the gallery for each viewer to uniquely piece together through their own embodied perceptual encounter.”

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