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Art and Real Life: On Gregg LeFevre's Photography

Broken Perseus. All images courtesy of the artist.

A Wrinkle in Time by Gregg LeFevre

McIntosh Building, 214 Lafayette Street (NY) by appointment only

May 17 - June 30, 2019

By ANTHONY HADEN-GUEST, April 2019

Art and real life, presentation and documentation, have been in each other’s face since the very beginnings of photography. After the battle of Gettysburg two of the best regarded American Civil War photographers, Alexander Gardner and Timothy O’Sullivan, carried a corpse to a more striking location to take a set of pictures, the best-known of which was called A Sharpshooter’s Last Sleep. Actually the dead man had been an infantryman not a sniper and the gun was probably a photographer’s prop. Nonetheless for the next century and a half reportage photographers were relied upon for commitment the truth, just as it was accepted that other photographers were using the form to make art. That was then. Now iPhonery, social media, digital trickery and the surveillance culture have so swamped and trivialized the medium that it can seem barely usable for either purpose. But then, like the baseball players in A Field of Dreams, a photographer will come, and he or she will find something wholly new to do with the camera. Gregg LeFevre is such a photographer.

Cracked Head

Some back story. For over thirty years LeFevre has been making art on the streets by re-photographing damaged, defaced or otherwise re-defined publicly available pictures, for the most part using billboards and street ads. The images which he has channeled include those that have been targeted by graffiti writers and street artists, those sliced, diced and penetrated during construction and those that have been juxtaposed with another contradictory and/or contributory image. Also those that show the effects of fire or weather or just when LeFevre was pleased by the placement of an image, as in Cracked Head, in which a neo-classic female head has been applied to the panel of a heavy duty metal truck  in such a way that it seems caged in by hinged and riveted hardware,. What these images share is that in each the desired commercial messaging has been utterly subverted, with comic, erotic, poignant or otherwise unsettling effect.  

MET SCREAMER

LeFevre’s hunts for good material would often be conducted at night for such reasons as the easier working conditions on the streets, the speed with which posters would be replaced and the often interesting lighting. It was on such an urban safari about ten years ago, just after the use of sticky vinyl ads had become standard, that he found an image which was just fine, except that the segment with the model’s face had peeled away, and dropped to the subway platform. No problem. He took both pieces back to his studio, to stick them together and get his shot. Problem. The face was no longer model-smooth. “The face morphed from being beautiful to looking menacing,” LeFevre says. Problem resolved. “So that turned out to be my first wrinkle piece. I still have it today.” 

Three Graces

The works in the series from which this show is drawn, Neo-Classical Wrinks, are a formal development from what came before but otherwise a total departure. The Pop strategy of at once channeling and undermining the messages conveyed by photography when used by marketing and big media has been replaced by the high art/raw life confrontation prefigured i. Le Fevre’s raw materials are no longer ads and billboards defaced by others or mutilated by accident but bits and pieces of Classical and Neo-Classical art, chosen from museum collections in the US and Europe. They include a segment of Botticelli’s Three Graces, a weirdly idealized marble head of Napoleon by Canova and a segment of Bernini’s David and they have been re-purposed not by vandals or accident but by LeFevre himself.

Big Drape

LeFevre has developed work processes appropriate to the change. The earlier, street photography-based pieces became prints that could readily be editioned but the new works are one-offs. David, for instance, was made using a technique which involves baking latex ink onto archival vinyl, thereby creating a photographic image that will last 200-plus years. He then used a process he has developed himself, first folding the vinyl photograph to roughly suggest Bernini’s flowing drapery, then applying a technique for which he has a patent pending which transforms the drapes into a solid, three dimensional surface. This treatment has been applied to much of the new work. 

Not Josephine

Accident plays an important part in even the most meticulously planned art process, of course, and so it has been here. LeFevre was maneuvering a six-foot tall bronze totem around his Bleecker Street studio but lost control and it toppled into another piece leaning against a wall, a photo-relief of another Canova marble, a statue of Perseus. Craaaaack! He put the fragmented piece onto a stack of other work. “A few weeks later the stack spilled over and I looked at it,” LeFevre said. “I realized that maybe the broken photo wasn’t ruined after all.” 

The Storm

A Wrinkle in Time, Gregg LeFevre’s exhibition of large scale, three dimensional photographs, opens May 17th, 6-9, upon three floors of the McIntosh Building, 214 Lafayette Street, Soho, and will run through to June 30th. Entry by appointment only. Contact email: lefevreshow@gmail.com. WM

Anthony Haden-Guest

Anthony Haden-Guest is an internationally known writer and artist. 

 

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