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Les Levine

Wing 1 of 4

Les Levine

Mindful Media consists of two suites of works from the 1970s by the New York based Irish artist Les Levine.
Together with a third body of work entitled Using the Camera as a Club (1979), recently viewed in The Moderns
exhibition, they comprise an extremely generous recent donation by the artist to the IMMA Collection.
In donating these works, the artist has stated, “I have always believed this work should belong to the people of
Ireland and I am happy that they are now in the collection of IMMA.”

The two groups of works in this exhibition are both entitled The Troubles: An Artist’s Document of Ulster. The first
is a group of 80 cibachrome photographs, made in 1972 and forms part of a series of works for which the artist
coined the terms Media Sculpture and Media Art. The other suite of the same title comprises 18 photo-etchings
which were made in 1979 from photos taken in 1972.

The 80 photographs, The Troubles: An Artist’s Document of Ulster, is one of Levine’s early media works. The
artist describes:

“It deals with every aspect of the situation. It goes into Catholic homes, Protestant homes, churches, funerals,
explosions... My approach was to take it from the human point of view, not the political. So in all cases I tried to
show the people involved and to evoke some state of mind that they were representing in the photo. I avoided
taking sides or showing bias. I think the photos tell their
own extraordinary story…”

“At the opening of the 1973 installation of The Troubles in NewYork, someone came up to me and said, ‘It’s not
art. It’s too real.’ And I took the comment to mean the inverse, implying that art is not real, but this is real.”

Levine’s approach implies a more thoughtful media, not just the evening news, but a compassionate mindful
view which provides a deeper understanding of the images we are consuming. “I am interested in using media
to effect change and understanding of our environment. I want to consider media as a natural resource and to
mould media the way others would mould matter. In the case of The Troubles I was forced to ask myself, are
the political problems of a society a valid concern for art? The answer was ‘Yes, of course…’”

Jack Burnham stated in Arts Magazine, April 1973, “In a factual sense Levine is a reporter in The Troubles, but
his unique artistry depends upon sensitivity to context, his ability to juxtapose materials and to heighten their
meaning. In that sense Les Levine has not only given us great art with The Troubles, he has also set a standard
for thoroughness and personal commitment towards which the entire art world might look.”

Les Levine was born at 44 Pembroke Road in Dublin in 1935. At the age of eight he met the Irish painter Jack B.
Yeats and remained friends with him until his death. He studied at the Central School of Arts and Crafts, London,
before moving to Toronto in 1958, where he continued his studies at the New School of Art. Levine’s artistic
practice incorporates various means including painting, sculpture, installation, performance work, mail art and
artists books. He is regarded as the founder of Media Art and is responsible for the terminology, Software Art,
Disposable Art and Camera Art. In 1974 Levine wrote the seminal essay “Media: The Bio-Tech Rehearsal for
Leaving the Body”.

In his prolific career Levine has produced major series of works about the manifold effects and functions of the
media and information systems. Since 1976 he has produced many media campaigns throughout North America,
Europe and Australia. For these works in many cases he has used billboards in which he subverts the language
of mass advertising to interrogate social and political anxieties. In most cases these billboard campaigns operate
throughout an entire city virtually turning that entire city into a media sculpture. A prime example WE ARE
NOT AFRAID, 1981, with Lower Manhattan Cultural Council, consisted of a two month advertising campaign
across 6000 premium sites on all the New York City Subway Lines. From Beyond the Pale, a season of major
exhibitions and projects organised by IMMA in 1994, included an extensive billboard campaign across Dublin City
by Les Levine, entitled ‘Blame God’, some of the imagery from which was based on the photographs which the
artist took in Northern Ireland in 1972.

Moving to New York in the 1960s, Les Levine became a leading Conceptual art figure, intersecting art and life
in a variety of projects such as Levine’s Restaurant, 1969 and the Conceptual museum he invented in 1970
called The Museum of Mott Art, Inc. He also published a monthly magazine in 1969 called Culture Hero. In the
1960s, Levine was one of the first artists to work with video and television. His first video tapes were produced in
1964. His work was to become a precursor to the new generation of experimental artists who were exploring the
possibilities of the moving image including Dan Graham, Gary Hill and Bruce Nauman.

In 2004 Les Levine edited/curated Printed Project 04 in an issue called The Self Express. This presented a multi-
faceted portrait of the artist conducted by 15 different interviewers. The title comes from the idea that all art is a
form of self-expression. One could think of The Self Express interviews as mental portraits of the interviewers.
Since the age of media it is unclear whether realities or illusion are the primary driving force of self image.

Among his major projects are Slipcover, Art Gallery of Ontario, 1966; Contact, Institute of Contemporary Art,
Chicago, 1969; Language ÷ Emotion + Syntax = Message, Vancouver, 1974; I Am Not Blind: An Information
Environment About Unsighted People, Albright-Knox Gallery, Buffalo, New York, 1977; Public Mind: Les Levine
Media Sculpture and Mass Ad Campaigns, Everson Museum, New York, 1990; and Art Can See, Galerie Der
Stadt, Stuttgart, 1997.

Solo exhibitions of Levine’s work include the Walker Art Center, Minneapolis; the Museum of Modern Art, New
York; National Gallery of Victoria Melbourne; Albright-Knox Gallery, Buffalo, New York and the Vancouver Art
Gallery, Vancouver. Les Levine’s work is part of many international collections including Musée d’Art Moderne et
Contemporain, Strasbourg; National Gallery of Canada, Ottawa; the Netherlands Media Art Institute, Amsterdam;
Centre Pompidou, Paris; The Museum of Modern Art, New York; The Whitney Museum of American Art, New
York; Philadelphia Museum of Art, Philadelphia; The Museum of Fine Arts, Boston; The National Gallery of
Australia, Canberra; The Corcoran Gallery of Art, Washington; Ludwig Museum, Köln.

The artist continues to live and work in New York.

Christina Kennedy, Senior Curator, Head of Collections