If pioneer geneticist Gregor Mendel had cross-bred pioneer pointillist Georges Seurat and pioneer minimalist Donald Judd in the garden of Edward Scissorhands, he may have developed something akin to the paintings in 'New Cultivars,' David Lefkowitz's solo exhibition at Carrie Secrist Gallery in Chicago, which opened in January 2009.
The show was comprised of paintings of unlikely topiary structures isolated like specimens on a ground of Baltic birch plywood. The images, representations of natural forms which were manipulated to resemble representations of culture, came out of a desire to embody some internal contradictions of our ambivalent stance toward nature.
Some suggest practical use value, which is impossible when these forms are made of shrubs. A Slide with a prickly/leafy surface is not conducive to slippery play. The permeability of a bush would make a fairly ineffective Culvert. Others allude to natural forms that ‘grow’ in alternate ways- A Palm without fronds and an upside-down conifer (Inverted Pine). These play with assumptions about certain iconic symbols of nature.
Still other Cultivars mimic iconic man-made structures. In Villa, Le Corbusier’s Villa Savoye, a building designed to frame views of the surrounding nature, is transformed into the object of that gaze.
Calling these seemingly benign arboreal follies “cultivars,” a term used to describe different genetic variations of a plant created through science, implies human intervention at an earlier stage than one might normally associate with topiary. The implication is that these bushes “just grew that way.”