Originally trained as an architect, Barry Le Va (1941-2021) was born in Long Beach, CA and attended California State University, Long Beach. However, his determination to “create work on my own terms” soon led him to the art department. He transferred to the Los Angeles College of Art and Design and then moved on to LA’s Otis Art Institute, where he received a BA and an MFA in 1964 and 1967 respectively. In 1968, he was awarded the Young Talent Grant for the Los Angeles County Museum of Art. The following year, in1969, he had his first solo exhibitions at the Minneapolis Institute of Arts and the Walker Art Center. He received a Guggenheim Fellowship in 1974 followed by a National Endowment for the Arts Fellowship in 1976. By the late 1970s, Barry relocated to New York City where he lived and worked for the rest of his life.
With the debut of his first “scatter” pieces in 1966, Barry established himself as one of the leading figures in Process Art. He claimed the floor as his canvas and created installations with commonplace materials: wool felt, powdered chalk, ball bearings, glass, cast concrete, meat cleavers and paper towels. Titles such as “Dropping…” “Placing…” “Throwing…,” provide clear hints as to the performative nature of the work he made. Once parameters of the installation space were established, the artist dropped, placed or threw objects/materials into position. For every presentation, the work would be improvised within the confines of the pre-determined shape. In this way, the artist’s work was never static. Each installation represented the accomplishment of a single moment in the process of creation and thus the work was never “complete” as per 19th Century art theory.
Drawing has always figured prominently in Barry’s exploration of spatial ideas. Utilizing an aerial view, they describe the flow of space and seem to mediate the distribution of matter. According to the artist, these works on paper were meant to function “as a script to be improvised around, like a score for a jazz musician.” A careful study of the drawings makes clear the artist’s understanding of how distance between forms functions as the lingua franca of connection.
In an interview with curator James Meyer at Dia:Beacon in February of last year, Barry spoke about his lifelong affection for Sherlock Holmes and the notion of detective work as a template for viewing his art. With his installations, he created a physical scenario that required viewers to “take time and figure it out, to follow the steps I took, to look long and hard at something nobody else would notice.”
Barry’s work has been included in numerous significant group exhibitions such as Anti-Illusion: Procedures/Materials at the Whitney Museum of American Art, New York (1969), Information at The Museum of Modern Art, New York (1970), documenta 5 (1972), 6 (1977), and 7 (1982) in Kassel, Germany; and the Whitney Museum of American Art’s Annual and Biennial exhibitions of 1971, 1977, and 1995. The artist has had numerous solo exhibitions in the United States and in Europe and has been the subject of major survey exhibitions at the Walker Art Center, Minneapolis (1969); the New Museum, New York (1979); Carnegie Mellon Art Gallery, Pittsburgh (1988); Institute of Contemporary Art, Philadelphia (2005); and the Serralves Museum of Contemporary Art, Portugal (2006), among others. His works can be found in the permanent collections of the Art Institute Chicago; Dallas Museum of Art; Denver Art Museum; Los Angeles County Museum of Art; The Museum of Modern Art, New York; mumok, Vienna; The National Gallery of Art, Washington DC; The Morgan Library & Museum, New York; Whitney Museum of American Art, New York; and Yale University Art Gallery, New Haven.
In January 2020, in concert with his survey show at Dia:Beacon, New York, the gallery was privileged to exhibit one of his most iconic works, Shattered (Off Center),1968-71.