Leibowitz, Cary / Candyass (geb. 1963 NY (USA) )

Born in 1963, New York; lives in New York -

lebt in NY

 Cary Leibowitz/Candyass

No More Disappointing Offspring! 2000

Paper coffee cup

4 x 3 1/4 inches

Courtesy Creative Time, New York

Photo Credit: Robert Glasgow

We've been friends with Cary Leibowitz for several years; he shows his paintings at Andrew Kreps Gallery in NYC.


Last winter, when my wife was six months pregnant, we went to the opening of "Mama's Boy," a group exhibition at White Columns, which included these early (1992) limited edition works, B-ing a Grown-up is Hard and B-ing a Kid isnt EZ. Created in an edition of 75, each bottle was $250. I felt extremely target-marketed.


Mama's Boys exhibit, curated by Jane Harris, White Columns, Dec. 2003


Cary Leibowitz, in response to the pretentiousness of the art world and its consumer-driven market, inscribes mundane objects such as teddy bears, frisbees, car windshield sun screens, pennants, coffee mugs and T-shirts with expressions of doubt and self-hatred. He creates multiples of his installations, such as Accumulated Crap for Collectors (1989-present), in order to question the uniqueness of the original artwork and the consumer-driven aspect of the art market. Leibowitz's cup for DNAid wryly suggests that the public say "No!" to disappointing offspring and family shame by obtaining superior genes from George Washington, Albert Einstein, Marilyn Monroe and others.


Leibowitz has shown his work internationally in solo and group exhibitions. His work has been shown at the Clifford Smith Gallery, Boston (1999, 2001); the Ynglingagatan 1, Stockholm (1996); the Galerie Sanguine, Paris (1995); Gallerie Vier, Berlin (1993) and the Stux Gallery, New York (1991, 1990, 1989), and is represented in the collections of the Chase Manhattan Bank, the Hirschhorn Museum, The Jewish Museum, New York; the Peter and Eileen Norton Collection and the Robert J Shiffler Foundation.


The Multiples of Cary Leibowitz


April 3rd - May 17th, 2003

Opening: April 3rd, 2003, 7 - 9 pm


Candyass and the Pathetic Aesthetic

Don't Steal My Car Stereo, I'm Queer reads a car windshield screen by New York artist Candyass, also known by his birth name Cary Leibowitz. A self-loathing, self-deprecating, incessant whiner, Candy Ass employs humour, media satire, self-doubt, homosexual innuendo and Jewish cultural references to make his not-so-subtle critique of the pretentious commercial art world.


Masterpieces are for masters - Leibowitz makes his work in the form of schlocky & tacky knick-knacks. He inscribes mundane objects such as teddy bears, frisbees, baseball bats, pennants, rain ponchos, shopping bags, buttons, trashcans, wallpaper, coffee mugs and T-shirts with his expressions of doubt and self-loathing. He turns stereotypes on their ass and back again. Leibowitz almost courts failure. Rich, layered ideas are tossed off pre-maturely as two-bit one-liners, but the sentiments resonate unexpectedly and linger long.


Art Metropole’s exhibition features over 200 of these works - a not-quite comprehensive collection of over 12 years worth of souvenirs of sadness for the self-esteem challenged.


Cary Leibowitz has exhibited regularly throughout the U.S., Europe and Japan. This is the first overview of his work in Canada.


Exhibitions include: the Clifford Smith Gallery, Boston (1999, 2001); the Ynglingagatan 1, Stockholm (1996); the Galerie Sanguine, Paris (1995); Gallerie Vier, Berlin (1993) and the Stux Gallery, New York (1991, 1990, 1989).

His work is represented in the collections of the Chase Manhattan Bank, the Hirschhorn Museum, The Jewish Museum, New York; the Peter and Eileen Norton Collection and the Robert J Shiffler Foundation.



Conscious Consciousness


Philadelphia Museum of Jewish Art

Congregation Rodeph Shalom

615 N. Broad Street, Philadelphia


by Jennifer Zarro / with curator Matthew Singer / and response by Cary Liebowitz

The Philadelphia Museum of Jewish Art (PMJA) at Congregation Rodeph Shalom recently opened an exhibition of works by New York-based artist Cary Leibowitz. Assimilatiana: Conscious Consciousness will be on view through April 2, 2004 and features paintings and objects made specifically for the PMJA. Paintings of clipper ships evoke colonial Americana, but in this case the artist references the Jewish link to the American colonies. Other works in the show include ski caps that are either assembled in the pattern of the American flag or in the shape of a Star of David. And hanging from the ceiling of the exhibition space are traditional yarmulkes that are altered with a zigzag cut to evoke the crack in the Liberty Bell. Jennifer Zarro sat down with PMJA curator Matthew Singer to discuss the meaning of all this, the work of Cary Leibowitz, assimilation, ghetto-fabulousness, and the significance of Chanuka mania. The interview was then forwarded to Cary Leibowitz who was asked to respond to the varied issues discussed herein. His response can be found at the end of the dialogue.

Jennifer Zarro: Matt, I started thinking about Minimalism in reference to this Assimilatiana exhibition because Cary Leibowitz once paraphrased Frank Stella's famous saying, "What you see is what you see," when he was describing his own Faggy Faggy Boom Boom text paintings. Frank Stella meant to say that when you look at his paintings that's all you get: color, line, shape, etc., there's nothing more there. But I was thinking that it was kind of odd that Leibowitz referenced that quote because I find so much more in his work. I find a lot of history, nostalgia, and memory referenced in his works. But then I thought that there are some other Minimalist characteristics in Leibowitz's art such as the pared-down simple style of his paintings, his use of multiples, even the use of texts in his paintings which can be read as design elements.

Matthew Singer: The other thing linking him with Minimalism is that the objects -- not his paintings, but the other objects, such as the ski caps in this exhibition -- are not produced by him, they are outsourced, and that's something that at least some of the Minimalist artists did.


JZ: Yeah, like having your sculpture sent out to be welded together...


MS: Right, and in this case it's having the hats knit.


JZ: The other theoretical thing about Minimalism that I see in Leibowitz's work is the idea of theatricality. It's what Michael Fried wrote about in Art and Objecthood in reference to Minimalism -- this idea that Minimalist art always requires an audience to complete it. I definitely see that in the case of Leibowitz's art. And funnily, in the last show that Leibowitz had in Philadelphia at the Arcadia Gallery, I saw that even his paintings were acting to complete each other -- one said "Hi Fatty," and the adjacent painting said, "Hi," back. So he was almost presenting a little play within his installation, like his paintings were having a little dialogue with each other and we were invited to join in.

MS: Yeah, or the series of works at Arcadia that read "Stop Copying Me." If you read the paintings from the outside going in you'd read, "Stop Copying Me," "Stop Copying Me," all the way into the center painting which read, "Do These Pants Make Me Look Jewish?" So it really was this conversation that ended in an almost non sequitur.


JZ: So I wonder how aware the artist is about this theatricality of his art objects, I know you can never speak for someone else or get into someone else's head but...


MS: That's a fascinating question, I can't answer for him, but I think that one thing that really struck me during the process of working on this show and going through the installation of it was that, you know, obviously all the works were made for this show specifically, and naturally they took pretty much up to the last minute to be produced and we really didn't know what to expect as far as the installation was going to be concerned. So as I was thinking and writing about the show, and giving people little bits of a preview, I was talking about all the objects as individual objects, like "What is the meaning of a ski cap that says 'Happy Chanuka'?" or "What is the meaning of a yarmulke that has a crack in it?" or "What is the meaning of a single faux clipper-ship painting?" But, really, experiencing the show is completely different than focusing on those individual objects. I think one of the most fascinating things for me about this show is how the ski caps are not only objects in and of themselves, but they are also in a way a medium. He basically took the ski caps and made paintings out of them and that to me is kind of really brilliant. So I don't know if that really answers any questions about the theatricality of it all, but I will say that his art is best experienced as an environment, especially in this case. I feel like this particular show is an environment.


JZ: Right, I totally agree. Would you say that there are certain themes or one reigning theme to the show?


MS: Well, I am really amazed at how celebratory this show feels. I don't know if Cary would characterize it that way at all because when he referred to the clipper-ship paintings he called them "tragicomic." And I think that with every work in the show there is a kind of pathos, or at least a little bit of an expression of how uncomfortable he might be with displays of ethnicity, which is really what the show is all about. It's about the American Jewish experience on the whole but it's an experience that is true of almost any ethnic group -- it's about entering into American society and how we adapt to it. It's about more or less taking on the camouflage of the society; you don't really put your ethnic difference forward. And what this show does, I think, is take a look at an alternate path. It kind of makes material an alternate path through assimilation. And I've looked at it as being two things. You could say that these are objects that might have been created if American Jews had this history of proclaiming their Jewishness and wearing it literally on their shirt sleeves or their heads, making it all very overt. The other alternate reality context that I think the show brings to mind is what if America had been a society in which Jews were the dominant culture and it would be a given that the objects would then express that particular ethnic background and identity. So all these things which we call Americana, which have this covert white Anglo-Saxon Protestant subtext to them, instead had a covert Jewish identity. And that is also what the title of show is about -- merging the idea of assimilation with Americana.


JZ: Right, don't the clipper-ship paintings suggest this alternate history, a history where Jewish settlers, rather than WASP settlers, got the credit?


MS: Right. You know, one of the other things that I was looking at when we were working on this show was the history of American Jewish colonial portraiture.


JZ: Did you actually do a lot of research on that?


MS: So far as reading about it, yes. There was a show that was organized by the Jewish Museum in New York that looked at portraits of Jews in 18th-century America, or the colonies that would become the United States. And uniformly, those portraits don't have anything that would identify the sitter as Jewish -- not in dress, not in objects, nothing. The most Jewish thing about the sitters is their last names, which are often identifiably Jewish. But other than that there are no visual clues that this is a Jewish subject. So that's, I think, a large degree of what this show is about. Not to sound too political, but it's about reclaiming the history or just turning history on its head a little bit to see what some other possibilities might have been.


JZ: Yeah, I was just thinking that maybe one other major theme of the show is about the artist questioning where he fits into that history.


MS: Well, Cary is an interesting figure because he has a great deal of mainstream integration in society -- he's a print specialist at Christie's, he is a very accomplished person as an artist and as a professional, he's a very respected person. And I hesitate to speak for him, but I think he also has this definite sense of outsider-ness. And I think that it has as much to do with being gay as it does have with being Jewish. So the sense of outsider-ness you may have as a gay person maybe reinforces a sense of outsider-ness you might have as a Jewish person. But, you know, American Jews have been assimilated for so long and I think that the whole question of assimilation is one that already belongs to the past. But I think that for Cary, and I'll apply this to myself too, gay liberation is fairly recent. And there are different ways that people respond to being openly gay. Some people have a much more assimilationist approach where what you want to project about yourself is that you're just like everybody else. And then there is this more underground take on it where being gay means being different and that's where the whole use of the term "queer" comes in, "queer" really does mean different. For the last 20 years, I've been living through the period where gay people have entered mainstream society, which is the experience that Jewish people had several generations ago. So as a gay person you may have a more visceral sense of what the assimilation process is.


JZ: Right, if you experience it personally in any facet you can maybe imagine what it must have been like for first-generation people to assimilate.


MS: Yeah, and another thing that's going on now which I've also thought about in conjunction with Cary as well as the last show I did here, the Plotz Retrospective, is that we're in a post-assimilationist period. Plotz really set the pace for this post-assimilation movement, and now there's the magazine called Heeb, and they both give a humorous take on Jewish life -- well, humorous and serious -- and this post-assimilation idea is not afraid of poking fun at mainstream society and the commonplace Jewish experience. But both Plotz and Heeb both borrow a lot from the visual culture and the language of contemporary African Americans and Hip Hop. You know, taking ghetto fabulousness and applying it to contemporary Jewish American culture. I've been thinking about the term "ghetto fabulous" because ghettos were a specifically Jewish thing, not by choice obviously, but the term started as a term to describe the quarters that Jews were restricted to and now people don't think of ghettos in a Jewish context but rather as part of the Black experience, but there is that shared experience.


JZ: Yeah, it's interesting you're talking about his because one of the things I've also been thinking about is this show in relation to the new National Constitution Center and how there was that huge debate about whether to pave and build over Washington's house and slave quarters. I see a sort of roundabout connection to the unearthing of a possible history, or an alternate history, in this exhibition and the literal burying of a history at the National Constitution Center, specifically the history of slavery in Philadelphia. And again it's a Black and Jewish connection going on and this idea of finding your place in history. The other thing I've been thinking about in relation to this show, and it's sort of another Black Jewish connection, is the show that Thelma Golden did at the Studio Museum in Harlem, the Freestyle show. In writing about that exhibition, Golden coined the term "Post-Black," and you were just talking about post-assimilation, so I started thinking, is there a "Post-Jewish"?


MS: Yeah, I think it's all post-Jewish. I think that except for people living in specifically Jewish communities like Hassidim or certain Orthodox Jews, I would say that American Jewish society right now is post-Jewish. I think that fewer than half of American Jews are synagogue affiliated, and the rate of intermarriage is really high, and I'm not saying that's a good thing or a bad thing, it just is, and I think that there's a lot of ambiguity and ambivalence and confusion among American Jews about their identity-- which in some ways is Jewish itself! I think that America is a society that's formed around freedom of choice and therefore the Jewish existence in the States is one of choice. It's not like in European societies even now where there are official state sanctioned Jewish bodies and you are more or less assigned to them. In America you can basically choose to be an affiliated and or practicing Jew, or you can chose to not be affiliated, or you can chose to say whether or not you are Jewish at all. Cary's show has to do with getting in the minds of descendants of the Jews who came to this country in the 17th and 18th centuries and to see how they experience their Jewishness. Do they have any sense of it at all or is it so buried in the past that it's not really part of their consciousness? Because I think that, for the most part, the descendants of the Jews who came so long ago as the 17th century are no longer Jewish.


JZ: So what about this idea of "Post-Jewish" in art? I would define the term in much the same way that Thelma Golden defined Post-Black: you know, artists who are aware of the 1970s reincorporation of Black power, African imagery, or even Bette Saar-type art but who aren't using that imagery anymore. So, could Post-Jewish art be similar? Artists who are referencing their history but who aren't making specifically Jewish art such as painting Ketubas or making ritual objects?


MS: I have a couple concurrent thoughts about that. I think that a real touchstone for recent contemporary Jewish art is the show Too Jewish, organized by the Jewish Museum and also shown here in Philadelphia at the National Museum of American Jewish History. Cary was actually in that show. My personal interpretation is that previously there was a lot of Jewish art that was tied to ritual uses or maybe tied to themes in Israel or themes that aren't really contemporary or that look back to the experience in the shtetl. I think that a lot of Jewish art has to do with some place else and some other time. Maybe American Jews don't feel that their experience is authentic enough to be able to make art about it. And I feel like the Too Jewish show, because it appropriated so many Pop Art and pop cultural references, and because it was very overt in proclaiming its Jewishness, is in many ways post-post-Jewish. It also had a real irreverent sense to it that maybe made people feel a little bit uncomfortable.


JZ: So what about Cary's use of the yarmulke as art? I mean typically it's not an art object, it's a ritual object.


MS: It's so funny that you say that because I've been thinking a lot about the yarmulke. It's the one piece in the show that I think doesn't, at least in Cary's intention, have a comic side to it. It is really meant purely as an homage to William Penn and the other founders of the Pennsylvania colony for creating a colony that was religiously tolerant. So inside the yarmulke it says "William Penn Fan Club, Philadelphia Museum of Jewish Art." It's really meant to give William Penn and his cohorts their props.


JZ: Is that totally sincere do you think?


MS: I do actually, at least from taking him at his word. But, you know, the people looking at the photograph of that piece, the cracked yarmulke, saw it as a yarmulke with a void, a tear, a crack and thought it was a statement about the current state of American Judaism, because it's a little bit frail, a little bit diminished. But I didn't get that sense at all from what Cary had to say about that piece. The photograph of the cracked yarmulke had a kind of pathos to it.


JZ: Yeah, I saw it as being like a ruin.


MS: Yeah, exactly. You know, a lot of people here at Rodeph Shalom, because it's a reform synagogue, don't even wear yarmulkes, so it's maybe sort of a disconnect in some ways. But then there are people elsewhere who wear yarmulkes all the time and to them it's everyday apparel. It always has some kind of sacred element to it, though, because it's a sign of respect for God.


JZ: Right, and so the idea is to cover your head in respect but so then would putting a rip or tear in it be seen as disrespectful in some ways? I mean would people take offense to that?


MS: I think that's a good point and that's something that I haven't though of. But I think that the sense of irreverence in the show is strong enough that in this particular context most of the people who are going to take a look at the yarmulke are not going to think it is blasphemous. It's hard to get inside someone else's head, but perhaps for an Orthodox person it would be offensive.


JZ: You know, another thing about the Liberty Bell yarmulkes in this show is that they are hung from the ceiling and hang over people's heads. Also, the show opened right before Christmas and Chanuka, and I can't help thinking about the hanging yarmulkes being like mistletoe hanging down. And also, it's interesting that they hang right over people's heads, as if we are invited to wear them in a way when we step under them.


MS: Well, when we were hanging the show we had to take into consideration that the yarmulkes should be in people's visual line but not in their way. But then as people started coming into the show they immediately would stand under the yarmulkes and kind of model them. And then the mistletoe thing was immediately stated too, like oh, we're standing under a yarmulke, let's kiss.


JZ: So this exhibition opened right around the Christmas season. Is the show in any way also an answer to the consumerism of Christmas time?


MS: Well the show did open when the Christmas season was in full swing and I was really struck by how festive this show looks. There's this enormous Star of David made out of hot pink ski caps that all say "Happy Chanuka." I really see this as an alternate take on what people do for Christmas in terms of seasonal decorations. I mean people don't typically decorate for Chanuka, at least not to the extent that people decorate for Christmas, and I was thinking that this is what could happen in that alternate reality if people went completely Chanuka crazy, like a Chanuka mania. Now, when we had our panel discussion at the opening for this show, Cary Leibowitz said that the show was not a response to the Christmas season.


JZ: You know, from what I can tell, it seems that in the past Cary Leibowitz has made art that is really personal, paintings and objects that are about being a pudgy youth, that show him at his Bar Mitzvah, etc., and I see this show as being very political.


MS: Yeah, I had similar thoughts. Not to speak for Cary, but I see this show as being an evolution in his body of work. What I see as a difference between other works and this show, Assimilatiana, is that in the previous shows he was so much of a presence and in this show he's not. This show is really about an idea, but he himself is not in the show -- except for his name, Cary Leibowitz, which features prominently on the clipper ship paintings, more prominently than the usual artist's signature on the paintings. And the show doesn't seem as autobiographical as some of the other works and shows he's done.


JZ: This installation has a large Star of David made out of hot-pink ski caps and also an American flag made out of red, white, and blue ski caps. Is he aligning the two symbols here in some political way?


MS: Well, they are two sides of the coin, they are installed catty-corner to one another and speak to the two sides of the show really and what it's about, the Jewish side and the American side. I don't know if you'll find this interesting or not, but the Jewish star was not necessarily a given. When we started installing the show Cary actually had an alternate plan about creating a menorah out of the Happy Chanuka ski caps but that just technically didn't work as well so he ended up going with the Jewish star.


JZ: So did he just send out his design and have the ski caps made up somewhere?


MS: Yes. The thing is, he has such a history of making multiples that he can just get done whatever he needs to have done. And in terms of the yarmulkes, I think he actually cut the crack in them and then a friend of his sewed them up. I was also thinking something similar about the clipper-ship paintings, and I don't think Cary avowed this so I will just state it with that caveat, but the number of the ship paintings and the way that they are kind of cropped at random really emphasizes their seriality. It almost like there's this film of clipper ship images and someone came in and made random cuts in the film. So you have this sense that they are a series and also somehow maybe fit together as one. Since the panels are all trapezoid in shape it seems that you could almost link them together and make a long, continuous string of paintings.


JZ: Yeah, and that trapezoid shape also suggests movement. Especially the way they are hung here in the gallery, all along one wall, like there's this fleet of ships cruising down one side of the gallery space. I was also wondering how you would characterize his painting style. I mean it's naive, it's maybe childlike, you can definitely see the thickness of the paint, so it's painterly in many ways, but as you said it also has that serial quality.


MS: He kind of fights against the painterly-ness.


JZ: Yeah, I find it hard to explain or describe his style.


MS: Well, one reviewer made the point that his style of lettering is what a graphic designer would come up with if they were trying to relay childlike handwriting. You could say perhaps that it's self-consciously naive.


JZ: This show is so nice because it seems so site-specific and really Philadelphia-specific, like with the Liberty Bell Yarmulkes, and the whole reference to colonial America.


MS: It does tie in with the Liberty Bell, and the Liberty Bell pavilion opened right before the show opened. And the other things that this show speaks to, almost accidentally, is that this year, 2004, is a major anniversary for American Judaism. It's the 350-year anniversary of the first Jewish community that established itself in the colonies.


JZ: Matt, thanks so much for talking to me about all this. What are you working on now? What's the next show at PMJA?


MS: The next show I am organizing will be Responsa, with Eileen Neff, Jennie Shanker, and Dick Torchia. It will be on view from April 15 to August 15. The show that will follow Responsa is being organized by Joan Sall, PMJA Director. For winter 2004-5 (December to April), I'm organizing Jonathan Adler: Synagogues, Ceramics, SoHo.



Cary Leibowitz Responds:


Hello. I like the piece -- sorry for taking a while to open it up - - always makes me nervous... I'm not good at verbalizing or typing so I won't say much... I would say the one idea that runs through my mind that didn't come up was the idea of nationality/patriotism vs. the personal/abject --- the idea of WANTING to pass..... to not be an outsider (AS YOU DID MENTION) --- I think in some ways I am obsessed with the Holocaust .... I don't research it nor do I blame the Jews that 'stayed' nor most Germans for their silence.... how much would have to happen here in the USA before I would leave it .... my boyfriend is English but I feel very American --- why I love this country is hard to put into words (and 'why' even more so????) I guess that's where my tragicomic comes in.... does it all go back to the great Jewish philosopher Groucho Marx, "I don't want to belong to any club that would have me for a member"... as long as I am an outsider and (labeled) Jew here in the USA I know what it is I am striving for...


About the Contributors


Matt Singer is Curator of the Philadelphia Museum of Jewish Art at Congregation Rodeph Shalom and Senior Communications Officer in the Development Department of the Philadelphia Museum of Art. He has contributed articles and exhibition-related supplements to The Magazine Antiques, Veranda, USA Today Magazine, The Philadelphia Inquirer Magazine, and The Philadelphia Tribune.


Jennifer Zarro is a doctoral candidate in art history at Rutgers University.

© 2004 Jennifer Zarro and InLiquid.com; images copyright © Philadelphia Museum of Jewish Art and Cary Liebowitz

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