William Leavitt: Theater Objects

March 13 – July 3, 2011
Moca – Gand Avenue – Los Angeles

These are the last few weeks to vist one of the most interesting exhibitions in LA right now. William Leavitt: Theater Objects is the first solo museum exhibition and retrospective of the work of the artist and also a perfect portrait of the Los Angeles state of mind, between alienness and reality, by one of the most representative and influential figures of the city.

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.
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.


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 late1960s 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.

Image Abolve: William Leavitt, Interior with Cactus Painting and Spiral, 1984, pastel on paper, 33 1/4 x 41 3/4 in., The Museum of Contemporary Art, Los Angeles, gift of Mike Kelley, photo by Brian Forrest


William Leavitt,
Painted Image, 1972
oil on canvas, wood easel, 66 x 33 1/2 in.
The Museum of Contemporary Art, Los Angeles
purchased with funds provided by John Baldessari
photo by Brian Forrest


William Leavitt
Study for “The Lure of Silk“, 1973
seven black and white photographs, ed. 1of 3 (vintage), 67 3/4 x 15 5/8 x 1 5/8 in.
The Museum of Contemporary Art, Los Angeles,
purchased with funds provided by the
Photography Committee


William Leavitt
The Tropics, 1974
gelatin silver prints and text, edition of 3 with 2 artist proofs, each: 11 x 8 1/2 in.,
collection of Edward Israel, Los Angeles


William Leavitt
Jaguar (from The Tropics), 1974
oil on canvas, 34 1/4 x 44 1/4 in.
courtesy of the artist


William Leavitt
Bridge with Lights, 1984
pastel on paper, 30 x 42 in.
collection of Rosette Delug


William Leavitt
Theme Restaurant, 1986
oil on canvas 46 x 72 in.
collection of Carolina Bilbao and Richard Massey, Miami


William Leavitt
Planetarium Projector, 1987
mixed media installation with painting (oil on canvas), 48 x 68 in.
collection of Robert and Wendy Brandow


William Leavitt
Hillside Lights (Incandescent), 2004
oil on canvas, 24 x 60 in.
courtesy of Margo Leavin Gallery, Los Angeles


William Leavitt
Cutaway View, 2008
mixed media installation with painting (acrylic on canvas), 98 x 75 x 26 in.
painting: 30 x 40 in.
courtesy of Margo Leavin Gallery, Los Angeles


William Leavitt
Warp Engines, 2009
mixed-°©?media installation with sound, dimensions variable
courtesy of the artist; LA><ART, Los Angeles; Margo Leavin Gallery, Los Angeles


William Leavitt
Enterprise Tomatoes, 1991
pastel on paper 15 x 44 in.
Lari Pittman and Roy Dowell, Los Angeles


William Leavitt
Feynman Diagram, 1978
pastel on paper, 30 x 20 in.
collection of Mary Sue Ader-Andersen