All the World’s A Stage:
William Leavitt’s Theater Objects at MOCA
By Leticia Marie Sanchez
All photography© MOCA
All the world’s a stage, all the men and women merely players. Nowhere does Shakespeare’s expression hold more true than at William Leavitt’s Theater Objects at MOCA.
Walking into the exhibition one hears the constant chirping of birds and the flow of cool air. Are we in a jungle? A theme park? On the set of a play?
Leavitt’s engaging exhibition interacts with its audience, causing the museumgoer to constantly question where he or she stands.
Co-curated by MOCA Curator Bennett Simpson and Ann Goldstein, former MOCA senior curator and director of the Stedelijk Museum in Amsterdam, William Leavitt: Theater Objects represents the first solo museum exhibition and retrospective of the artist’s 40-year career. The exhibit showcases approximately 90 works from 1969 to the present, including: sculptural tableaux, paintings, works on paper, and photographs.
Leavitt’s background in stagecraft, narrative, and theater, informs his work, which gives audiences a behind-the scenes peek at theatrical installations. An inscription in the exhibit gives a “nod to Raymond Chandler,” an apt allusion as Leavitt’s work veers into noir, into what is lurking behind the shadows, behind the patio, behind the façade.
William Leavitt, Theme Restaurant, 1986, oil on canvas 46 x 72 in., collection of Carolina Bilbao and Richard Massey, Miami
Leavitt employs satire in his painting of the landmark Encounter Restaurant at LAX by titling it Theme Restaurant. His title links the iconic airport restaurant to a theme park like Disneyland. The visual context of the painting, cleverly hung by MOCA next to Roller Coaster (1984) and Brown Derby (1987) underscores this motif. Leavitt’s satire highlights Los Angeles’ identity as an entertainment hub. Are people flying into the city simply to be entertained? (Ironically, the interior of the LAX restaurant, was in fact designed byWDI, Walt Disney Imagineering)
William Leavitt, California Patio, 1972, mixed media(artificial plants, Malibu lights, flagstone, slider, curtains, wooden wall, and text), 96x144x 96 in.,collection Stedelijk Museum, Amsterdam,courtesy of Stedelijk Museum Amsterdam
Approaching California Patio (1972), are we walking on a set? Are we actors or viewers? Next to the patio set is a script, reinforcing the notion that the patio is merely an illusion. The sliding door alludes to the wilderness coming in, the danger lurking behind the glass. The green curtains resemble theatrical curtains, adding to the spectacle motif in Leavitt’s exhibit.
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
Cutaway View (2008) allows the viewer to play peek-a-boo with a horse glancing at us from behind foliage. The horse examines us quizzically with his steady gaze, putting us on the spot. Who is viewing whom exactly? Are we the spectator? Are we the audience? Leavitt plays with the experience of looking. The artificiality of the plant suggests façades around the city, heralding Los Angeles as a place to see and be seen, once again denoting the spectacle of the city.
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
Finally, the Tropics is a multi-media display consisting of a water color set, a script, gelatin silver prints, and texts. The script tells the story of a man bestowing a pearl necklace upon his wife.
The jaguar in the painting symbolizes the predatory nature of the man who uses jewelry as a means of seduction in the jungle of desire.
William Leavitt, Jaguar (from The Tropics), 1974, oil on canvas, 34 1/4 x 44 1/4 in., courtesy of the artist
The plethora of visual media in the Tropics adds to its psychological dimension. The repetition of images like the jaguar elicits archetypes from our subconscious mind.
Presented through 10,000 square feet of exhibition space at MOCA Grand Avenue, Leavitt’s vast and cohesive exhibit marvelously takes the viewer on a journey, at once mysterious and humorous. Leavitt’s perspective on Los Angeles not only impacts the way that we see our city, but also the very way that we experience art itself.
In addition to being an artist, Leavitt is also a playwright.
MOCA will stage two of his performance works in conjunction with the exhibition. Spectral Analysis (1977) will be performed in the galleries; Pyramid, Lens, Delta (2003) will be premiered as a table reading in the Ahmanson Auditorium at MOCA Grand Avenue.
William Leavitt: Theater Objects
March 13- July 3
MOCA Grand Avenue
250 South Grand Avenue, LA, CA 90012