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Les Levine

Les Levine was a post war artist and one of the first to be called a new media artist.  Levine is from Dublin but spent most of his career in New York City. His first video work was shown in 1964, and he showed all over the world as well as at least 100 individual shows in the United States. His work often questions societal norms and is often times provocative and controversial. He is less concerned with the aesthetic appearance of his work and more concerned with the ability of his media work to make viewers think differently. His work contrasted his contemporaries work, such as Warhol, because he wanted to emphasize reality rather than fantasy, and he opposed commercialism and celebrity.

Levine completed many video works and was concerned with surveillance as well as the role of television in society. Another group of his works utilized plastic inflatables, one such piece is Slipcover, which was completed in 1967 and was installed at the Art Gallery of Ontario Toronto.. This work consisted of three rooms covered in shiny silver sheets of mylar, the space was constantly in flux because these giant plastic structures where consistently inflating and deflating. This inflatable work had a sonic element as well as incorporating light and moving images. Like many other contemporary artists his wish was to create an environment rather than an isolated work of art. The inflatable environment where also a prelude to Ant Farms inflatables in 1971. The message however was contradictory, as Levine wanted to emphasize reality rather than to create a utopian society. This work focused on surveillance as the viewer found real time images of themselves on a monitor within the exhibition. In this work and in many other works Les Levine wanted to create a space where the viewer had to look at themselves critically, as both the viewer and the performer.

Levine was interested in the way that video art had the ability to exist in a live space and he wanted to create work that was alive and existed in real time. In the 60’s video art was an emerging medium and was regarded as a passing trend by many art critiques. However, video was interesting to Levine because it was a medium that anyone could be involved in and it could reach large audiences. Levine believed that art should raise consciousness, and self awareness. 

Les Levine said, “I was never interested in changing the way the image looked”- on the aesthetic of video, but was rather more interested in displaying reality. He also said, “I was more interested in the way you could use a certain amount of time, the way you could express certain kinds of ideas and have them taken more seriously.” This attests to the idea that Levine used his art as a medium to deliver messages he thought were important and relevant. 






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