June 14, 2024
Art Gallery

Hannah Levy’s Spidery Sculptures Spin Intrigue at MASSIMODECARLO

Spidery legs—sharp, shiny, and arched in a threatening gesture—sink into the soft carpet at MASSIMODECARLO’s London gallery. In another room, a solitary, insect-like free-standing sculpture seems to have been caught mid-metamorphosis, silicone still oozing through its metal exoskeleton. Protruding from the wall, spiky-looking sconces clutch balls of what turns out to be blown glass. There are notes of Ludwig Mies van de Rohe, Robert Gober, and Louise Bourgeois, as well as BDSM and 1980s horror. This is the wildly unique universe of American artist Hannah Levy.

This is Levy’s first solo exhibition at MASSIMODECARLO, following the gallery’s announcement that it would represent the sculptor, who trained at Cornell University and then earned a Meisterschüler title from Städelschule in Frankfurt am Main in 2015. She was among The Artsy Vanguard’s 2018 cohort, and in 2022 had a solo exhibition at the Berkeley Art Museum and Pacific Film Archive (BAMPFA)—the same year she participated at the Venice Biennale in Cecilia Alemani’s main show, “The Milk of Dreams.” And institutions are taking note—her works have been acquired for the public collections of Moderna Museet in Stockholm, the Louisiana Museum of Modern Art in Denmark, and the National Gallery of Victoria in Melbourne, among others.

Her early works were composed of more rigid forms, employing simpler bends and curves riffing on the principles of modernist design. But as Levy has gained experience and confidence as a maker, her sculptures have become more complex and organic, using more ambitious materials. Two years ago, she began to work with glass, and in 2023, she was able to make a large-scale carved marble and stainless steel piece, thanks to a commission from Alemani for the High Line. Retainer resembles, as the title suggests, an oversized orthodontic retainer, made by collaborating with workers at a marble quarry in Italy.

For the most part, though, Levy works in her studio alone. “I do all the metalwork myself, as well as the casting,” Levy told Artsy, speaking on the phone the day after the opening of “Bulge”—the evocative title of her current exhibition. The single-edition sculptures it features are made using a laborious process of bending, welding, and grinding. “I have a very hands-on relationship to the work. I think through the objects physically as I’m making them, letting them act as they naturally want to. If the silicone looks pinched or pulled or squished, then that’s truly what’s happened to the material.”

This aesthetic is also visible in the silicone Levy has used in her new works, which is not smooth, but rather cast in lizard-pattern pleather, the texture of a basketball. The silicone’s fleshiness feels more real than the animal flesh we are accustomed to sitting on. “I try to take things from the environment that are so banal they have become invisible, and recontextualize them,” said the artist. It’s all about taking that sense of familiarity and comfort, and twisting and bending it out of shape to something that feels less “safe,” more muddy. “The ideal result would be a shift in perspective, so the next time you see something, you think differently about it.”

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