Barry Le VaThe Aesthetic Aftermath

Barry Le VaThe Aesthetic Aftermath

Michael Maizels

Print publication date: 2016

ISBN: 9780816694686

Publisher: University of Minnesota Press


In the late 1960s, the artist Barry Le Va began to use non-traditional materials (shattered glass, spent bullets, sound recordings, scattered flour, and sharpened meat cleavers) to execute a striking body of sculptural installations. Taking inspiration from popular crime novels and contemporary art theory, Le Va conceived of these works as an aesthetic aftermath. He charged his viewers to act like detectives at a crime scene, attempting to decipher an order underlying the apparent chaos. In addition to the aesthetic charge of its scattered visual poetry, Le Va’s work is compelling because of how clearly it articulates the web of perceived connections autonomous art objects, conservative politics and scientific objectivity. The artist's ephemeral installations were designed to erode not simply the presumed autonomy of the art object but also the economic and political authority of the art establishment. And while their unstable nature echoed the broad counter-cultural agitation against the social and political status quo, their embrace of impermanence was also informed by scientific discourse. Indeed, Le Va’s work reflects the degree to which engagement with scientific and mathematical topics such as entropy and information theory forms a significant but under-examined thread running through much of the most important sculpture of the late 1960s. In essence, Le Va’s aim to “keep the piece in a suspended state of flux, with no trace of a beginning or end” sought to challenge the metaphysics of stability that underpinned the interlocking assumptions behind blind faith in lasting beauty, just government and perfectible knowledge.