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 Les Levine  (1935 - )

/ leh-VEEN/
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Lived/Active: New York/Ontario / Canada      Known for: mod figure, environments, collage

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Ad Code: 3
Les Levine
An example of work by Les Levine
© 2001 Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York
This biography from the Archives of AskART:
Conceptual artist Les Levine, born in 1935 in Dublin, Ireland, and now lives in New York City.  He was a founder of media art, his first videotapes produced in 1964.  Since then, he has created environments, installations, sculptures and mass media campaigns.  He also makes plasticine models for these media projects.

Levine's large-scale drawings on canvas are usually 6' x 8' in size and are done with oil stick or with wax on paper. Typically, his work consists of an image of an object, such as a building, combined with a word, for example, "Taking a Position," is one of his large drawings.

Levine was educated at the Central School of Arts and Crafts in London, England. His awards include First Prize at the Art Gallery of Ontario, and a grant from the National Endowment of the Arts. His work, exhibited at Documenta, Kassel, West Germany, and the Finch College Museum.  It is in the collections of the Museum of Modern Art, Metropolitan Museum of Art both in New York City, U.S.A. and the following European collections: Staatsgalerie Stuttgart, DZ Bank Francfort, Städtische Galerie Im Lenbachhaus Munich and LBBW Stuttgart.

(The following is an excerpt from a Les Levine Interview by Davidson Gigliotti)

Would you mind telling me a little bit about your life before video.

I was born in Dublin, and I lived in Canada for seven years before I came to New York. That was Pop Art, you know, Pop Art was sort of like in its hot moment, it was just sort of erasing Abstract Expressionism. And people like Warhol and Robert Indiana and all those kinds of people were showing. And it just seemed to me that when I saw video for the first time I just realized that the thing that I had done which was a pronouncedly signature aspect of my work before video was something called disposable art, in which I was vacuum-forming these simple pieces out of Styrofoam plastic and I was showing them in galleries by the thousands and they were selling for like five dollars or something.

Oh, beautiful!

I was already into the concept of, you know,... it should be at that level, and should be distributed widely and.

Super cheap!

Yeah, cheap, but the thing that I felt, even when there were people who came after me like Mass Art and people like that, who were saying to me "why didn't you get involved with this?" I said because it was always crucial to me to remain a fine artist, I'm not interested in being anything other than a fine artist. You know, I wanted whatever contribution I could make to anything or any comment I could make on anything to be in that field.

I came out of the design field. I mean that from the time I left school I worked in design. And I left design, you know, because I felt it was an unexpressive medium.

You worked in design in Canada? Were you in Toronto?

I was in Toronto, and I was working for the Mar-vel Jewelry Company. I was what's known as a process designer, that's a person who designs the tools to make the objects that the so-called aesthetic designers come up with. In other words, somebody shows me a design, and then I say, "OK, we would have to make these various kinds of molds or machines to make these things. It's a little bit like industrial design, it's in between aesthetic design and industrial design. Process design. It was a new field at that time, and very, you know I could have gone on doing that for years if I wanted to. As a matter of fact I did a videotape in 1977 about stopping doing it called "Diamond Mind." in which I talk about the whole idea of working in that world and how vacuous it was, and how it didn't lead to any kind of discovery of one's self at any level. But anyway, so I was familiar with all that sort of stuff, I showed the disposables at the Fischbach Gallery, which I think is still in existence, and I think the next thing I did after the disposables was video. The criteria I had for the disposables was that if art was supposed to be a medium that could raise consciousness, if one aspect of its purpose was to give people insight or raise their consciousness, then why would you assume that it would stop at the object. To some degree - I can't remember where I read it - but I remember reading that Duchamp had said somewhere that the life span of a work of art is about five to ten years. After that it's no longer art.

It becomes an icon. I think that was the term he used.

And so the disposables were sort of based on the idea that you can have the aesthetic consciousness, whatever you want to get from art, and then just go on to the next thing, or move on from it. It seemed to me that media, per se, or video in particular is sort of bodiless, and in the fact that it is bodiless it allows for a lot more interaction with the consciousness than something which has a body. Like a painting or sculpture or an object has a body.

But when you get into the realm of information and software, then body is not the issue. I think that things, in terms of ideas and concepts, start to move a lot quicker. It's not that much different than if you ever try to paint a portrait, when you start to see that you can really get more information into it, then you really have the desire to get more into it. If you see that you can really make a more accurate version of this then you think, "I should, I must, I will." And it seems to me that information sort of is like that, it escalates its own sense of desire. In other words, if you see that something that you do in some kind information system like video or something like that produces an aspect of perception that didn't exist for you before, then that is very, um, produces some kind of attraction toward that activity.

When did you first become aware of video?

I think in about 1963, or something like that.

What did you see that excited you?

I think - you have to go back to the old standard - I was fascinated by the equipment, I may have to go back to that.

What equipment did you see?

The huge portapak. You remember the portapaks?


Les Krantz, "American Artists, Illustrated Survey of Leading Contemporary Artists"

Les Levine Interview
by Davidson Gigliotti
Recorded: December 9, 1999

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