Cary Leibowitz: Stop Copying Me, Stop Copying Me

February 7–March 14, 2002
Arcadia University Art Gallery


Since emerging in the late 1980s using the alias “Candyass,” (which he dropped in 1996) Leibowitz has developed a reputation for what he refers to as “late 20th-century gay Dada.” His paintings and multiples (such as pennants that read “Go Fags!” and “Misery Rules!”) use self-deprecating humor to critique our narcissistic fantasies of ambition and appearance. While the work in this exhibition makes self-conscious references to his identity as a gay, Jewish artist, Leibowitz's most recent pieces comment wryly on more universal questions germane to the exhausted discourse around painting and contemporary practice that have also been his stock in trade. (A series of banners from 1989 included works with titles such as “I Love Sherrie Levine,” and “I Love Tom of Finland.”) More than a decade later, “Stop Copying Me Stop Copying Me” demonstrates how the persistence of Leibowitz’s dandified, sad-sack whining allows him to claim the nominal “failure” of his career as potent content for his work.

For this exhibition Leibowitz employs a more minimal, monochromatic style compared to chattier, previous efforts. Each of the new pictures is painted in his signature, candy-colored palette on thick, wood panels. Labeled in Leibowitz’s faux-naive scrawl and hung from their top edges on exaggerated nails, they resemble a cross between old fashioned shop signs and 3-D cartoons.

Stop Copying Me, 2001, acrylic on wood, 14 panels, each 16” x 16”, courtesy the artist and Andrew Kreps Gallery, New York.

The majority of the works are visual puns. Painting with Something Missing (2001) is a purple field with a square cut into its center. Painting with a Way Out (2001) offers a door knob. Painting with Hindsight (2002) has a rear-view mirror attached to it. Many of these multiple panel works use text to address each other as well as the viewer. In Hi Fatty...Hi (2001) a “slim” painting taunts a “fat” one. In another, a pink square with red lettering implores eleven others to “stop copying” it. Confident in their awkward physicality and impudent formalism, Leibowitz’s deadpan one-liners take material literalism to a hyperbolic, bratty extreme.

In the center of the gallery Leibowitz has installed a mountain of garbage cans/umbrella stands, each printed with a snapshot of the artist on the occasion of his Bar Mitzvah, circa 1976. “The cans with the picture of Fatso,” he explains, “ also have the text GAIN! WAIT! NOW!, which is very much in keeping with my longstanding history of wanting/needing/hoping/praying for things to improve in my own impatient way.” The garbage cans are $50 and the umbrella stands are $52, the only difference being their price.

Leibowitz’s penchant for producing inexpensive multiples in flagrantly large editions is extended in the 6 x 9” announcement card he conceived expressly for the exhibition at Arcadia University Art Gallery. Based on the aforementioned painting Stop Copying Me Stop Copying Me, this multiple was printed in an edition of 12,000 and was bulk-mailed not once but twice to every address on the gallery’s mailing list.

Leibowitz (38) received his MFA in painting from the University of Kansas in 1987 after studying interior design at the Fashion Institute of Technology (1983-84) and architecture at Pratt Institute, New York (1981-83). Since his first one-person show in New York (at Stux Gallery in 1988), he has exhibited internationally, including important group shows such as “Bad Girls,” at The New Museum of Contemporary Art (1994); “In a Different Light” at the University Art Museum, Berkeley, California; and “Two Jewish? Challenging Traditional Identities,” at the Jewish Museum, New York (1996). He is the recipient of an Award in the Visual Arts Fellowship (1991) and a grant from Art Matters (1994). A resident of Harlem (where he has lived since 1999), he is a print specialist at Christie’s New York auction house. In October of 2001, the interior of his town house (“decorated to within an inch of its life”) was featured in a cover story of the New York Times Magazine’s “Home Design” section.

Writing about Leibowitz’s paintings on view in a recent exhibition at the Andrew Kreps Gallery—his first one-person exhibition in New York since 1996, New York Times critic Holland Cotter remarked: Mr. Leibowitz takes a passive aggressive jab at a whole range of art-world non-issues in work that is post-beauty, post-theory, post-cool, post mature, and possibly—this has been Leibowtiz’s consuming worry for over a decade—post success. But he needn’t fear failure. He never “arrived” on the scene in any conventional sense, so he has never left it either. Being perpetually out of step is a career move that makes him an artist for all seasons.

Richard Torchia