Western Movie - William Leavitt | Galerie Frank Elbaz

Obviously this little website is more of a personal project than an actual news source, but I’ve tried not to talk about shows that are actually closed at time of writing! I’ll make an exception for this one, though, as it surprised (and haunted) me so much. It’s from US artist William Leavitt, who exhibited several small paintings and one video installation at Frank Elbaz in Paris.

I went in the late afternoon yesterday, the final couple of hours of the show. The gallery workers were beginning to gather their things to get their Saturday nights started. The works on display did not match the upbeat atmosphere, though.

Installation view

The show notes point out Leavitt’s influence on conceptual art since the 60s, though I have to admit his name was new to me. His choice of subjects are of the late 20th century California suburbs (though the actual works on show are brand new): a Polaroid camera, a Buddha statue, floor-to-ceiling windows, sun-bleached tree trunks, pink skies. An empty swing set. His figures are almost all in silhouette, or appear as shadows, stretched and elongated as if lit by a a low afternoon sun. Many of these are mashed up on the same canvas, pushed together, often forming loose triptychs. This habit is revealed by Leavitt’s titles: ‘Disney Hall, Lawn, Woods’, for example, or ‘Dust Storm, Figures, Tree, Patio’.

This deliberate banality and flatness, coupled with the weird juxtapositions of objects, leads to an uncanny atmosphere, sometimes shading into dread. Everything seems so still, witholding. Even the video work, ‘Memory Blips’, has a pot plant and blinds obscuring the action. Though nothing happens, in either the paintings or the video, there’s a sense of impending disaster.

Wandering around the empty gallery, I heard the pulsing synths of a John Carpenter soundtrack: that same off-beam creepiness. Leavitt’s western movie… is a horror movie.

Western Movie - William Leavitt is at Galerie Frank Elbaz (Paris). 17 March - 19 May 2018.