Showing through December 18
By Daniel Gerwin
Entering Marginal Utility’s gallery, one encounters a table on which Lefcourt has fashioned three precisely matching rectangles of scattered sawdust and plaster fragments. This trio of tabletop pictures deftly turns debris into image, specifically reminiscent of iconic Suprematist paintings by Kazimir Malevich, such as his 1915 Black Square and Red Square. These sawdust and plaster “paintings” have a ghostly feel, and I found myself holding my breath out of a sense that the arrangement could be blown away by a sneeze or a cough.
Nearby, a large sheet of paper is secured to the wall by numbered pins, the kind used to identify artwork on a gallery wall or to specify locations on a map. The image on the paper is a gray-scale, all-over composition of tiny marks, produced by scanning a piece of MDF panel. The particular placement of numeric pins on such a ground suggests an absurd attempt at deciphering the unintelligible. I am reminded of the biblical Adam in the Garden of Eden, naming each of the animals as though the very act of labeling constitutes knowledge and dominion. Lefcourt confronts us with the fact that our efforts to pin things down, i.e. to name through language, are unreliable.
Active Surplus is composed largely of construction materials, but Lefcourt does his most fascinating building by working with light, using a low-fi overhead projector to dramatic effect. Scattered sawdust and two irregular plaster forms lie on the projector’s surface, their shadows projected onto a large MDF panel. Interrupted by specks of sawdust, light falls on the MDF like gold leaf, becoming a ground for the large geometric shadows. With elegant economy, Lefcourt evokes medieval icon painting, early abstraction, and the light artist James Turrell.
Constructing a painting from light and shadow on MDF is both a statement on the conceptual nature of painting (i.e. painting is less about paint than a way of thinking) and a gesture of resistance to commodification. The former statement comes off wonderfully, but I find the anti-commodity posture somewhat hard to swallow. The market has demonstrated that anything can be bought and sold, from the physically massive (Richard Serra’s multi-ton steel sculptures) to the repugnant (Piero Manzoni’s canned shit) to the conceptually immaterial (Lawrence Weiner’s statements). Performance artists receive institutional funding and are represented by galleries who know how to monetize every art form. Despite Lefcourt’s questionable anti-commodity conceit, the sheer beauty of the projection is redemptive. A similar projection is set up in the back of the gallery, only this time the image is projected on another sheet of paper with an image of scanned MDF, held to the wall by more numbered pins and thus summing up the exhibit in a single work.
Lefcourt has one more trick up his sleeve in this thoughtful show. Examination of the plaster fragments reveals that they are not leftover plaster chips you might find lying around a construction site. Their surfaces are curiously modeled, and it turns out that Lefcourt designed them using a 3-D function in Photoshop, then transferred them to CAD architectural software to direct a computerized router to create molds for these plaster forms. This elaborate process of mimicry evokes the philosopher Jean Baudrillard’s notion of the simulacrum, once again exposing the slipperiness of representation. We don’t see what we think we see, but it turns out that what we actually see is an imitation of what we thought we saw in the first place. By the time you’ve unraveled all of that, you’ll probably want to go back to the projector to be refreshed by an experience of wonder provided by a force beyond the reach of intellectual gyration: beauty. For me, beauty is the active surplus in these rooms, the unjustifiable extravagance that will keep Lefcourt’s work alive in my mind long after this exhibit is over.
Daniel Gerwin is a Philadelphia-based painter whose work will be on view in the exhibit There’s A Place, curated by Sarah McEneaney, at Bucks County Community College from Jan-March, 2012.