William Leavitt: Cycladic Figures at Honor Fraser

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Movie sets, paintings, and sculptural installations comprise William Leavitt’s fascinating Cycladic Figures at the Honor Fraser gallery in Culver City through October 23rd. It’s a quintessentially Los Angeles exhibition, vibrantly artistic and infused within the form of the film industry. After all, we are still a filmmaker’s town as much as a blossoming art center, so what better way to combine the two creative heartbeats of the city than in an exhibition that makes Honor Fraser into a personal sound stage. Leavitt is a Los Angeles-based artist, known for his immersive installations, and is a true L.A. renaissance man, writing plays, building sets, making films, creating paintings, drawings, and installations. The artist has said that his work frames a story through an object, situation, or painting. From there, the viewer is left to continue the story, making his work gently interactive.

The title of the exhibition sets the stage, so to speak, for what the viewer experiences. It refers to sculptures created in the Cyclades Islands located off the coast of Greece five thousand years ago. The name of these islands refers to a circle, and the islands were said by the ancient Greeks to surround the holy island and sanctuary of Apollo. Little is known about the Cycladic people and their world – and perhaps we, too, know little about our own — perhaps we circle an unknowable sanctuary.

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In Leavitt’s work, the sense of mystery that surrounds the Cyclades Islands also surrounds our contemporary world. At Honor Fraser, there are intimate universes that the viewer walks through and around, part noir, part sci-fi. Color and light make each work into a separate and immersive space. With “Lennie’s Set,” the effect is pure noir, all that’s necessary is for the femme fatale to walk into the room and engage the services of what surely must be private investigator Lennie. Sunglasses, an almost archaic wind-up clock, and a rotary phone are on the desk, while a shadow, undeniably feminine, dark against a wash of golden light, is projected onto the brown venetian blinds behind that desk. There’s a brief case on the floor, a standing lamp with a dusty brass base. And yet – there is also an empty, clear green plastic leftover container which no noir p.i. would have ever seen. Are we time travelers?

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With “Faraday Cage” we are surely entering the realm of science fiction, with a wood and metal mesh cage surrounding a plastic lawn chair. Behind these objects is a garage cum Rube Goldberg-esque science lab. Once serving as a set in Leavitt’s film Cycladic Figures, an interesting transition happens when this set is displayed as an artwork.

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It is like watching a film within a film – a set artfully rendered becomes a sculpture that could serve as a film set, one in which the “audience” is invited to break the third wall of cinematic framing and walk on through. Viewers are thus invited to alter the narrative scope of the sculpture – their very presence changes it.

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Also a part of the exhibition are Leavitt’s paintings and works on paper. In a similar fashion to his installation work, he creates layered scenes that invite the viewer to develop them. Leavitt’s conceptual work in his “Head Space” series reveals two silhouetted faces against a background that morphs fields and cities as distant landscapes, while the faces themselves contain floating objects and architectural ruins.

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We are where are as much as who we are, Leavitt seems to posit, and where we are is not only this time or corporeal space but the past and future landscape as well.

  • Genie Davis; Photos: Courtesy of artist/gallery and Genie Davis