Daniel Levine, 1959-2022

Four Whites #2, 2018-2019, oil on muslin
4 paintings, each 12″ x 11-7/8″

Contributed by Russell Floersch / My dear friend, the artist Daniel Levine, died suddenly on January 20th of a heart-attack.

Daniel was born in Brooklyn and left in 1977 to go to college at the University at Buffalo. In the late 1970s and early ’80s Buffalo was a welcoming environment for young artists, a kind of slipstream in the wake of the early Pictures Generation, which was so wonderfully captured in the Albright-Knox 2012 survey “Wish You Were Here.” In 1983, Daniel earned his MFA in Painting. During more than six years in Buffalo, Daniel cultivated mentorship-friendships with many artists, including Marion FallerHollis Frampton, and Tony Conrad. His work was included in two “In Western New York”  survey exhibitions curated by the Albright-Knox Art Gallery. At HALLWALLS and the Contemporary Photography and Visual Arts Center (CEPA), he both curated exhibitions and showed his own work, which is in the collections of the Albright Knox and the Burchfield Penney Art Center.

In 1984 Daniel returned to New York City where he found space in a 19th-century manufacturing building at the junction of the East River and the Newtown Creek in Greenpoint. He created a studio and fell in with a group of artists that included Stephen ParrinoOlivier Mosset and Steve DiBenedetto.

Daniel Levine, Painters/Paintings, 2015, installation view at 57W57Arts NYC

He showed his work at White ColumnsCash/NewhouseSonja Roesch Gallery, 303 Gallery, Julian Pretto, Stark Gallery, Michael Kohn, Stephanie TheodoreMinus SpaceChurner & Churner (which resulted  in a wonderful review by Roberta Smith),  57W57Arts, and more.

In 1989, at HALLWALLS in Buffalo, Daniel curated AMERIKARMA, an influential and prescient exhibition comprising artists who were “fascinated by American pop culture and our alienated stammerings (conscious or otherwise).” Felix Gonzalez-Torres, Cady Noland, Stephen Parrino, Raymond Pettibon, Jim Shaw, Richard Prince, and others were included in the show. 

Throughout the 1990s, the Italian collector Count Panza di Biumo supported Daniel’s work and installed it at his Varese residence alongside canonical minimalist artists. Levine received a Pollock-Krasner Foundation Grant and a New York Foundation for the Arts Grant, and was a visiting artist at the University of Tennessee at Knoxville.

Known primarily for his white monochromes, Levine had been a longtime presence on the New York art scene and he was tremendously supportive of other artists. He was an intrepid art lover, walking the city, its museums and galleries, always sharing photos and comments along the way. 

Daniel Levine, Sunday-S, 2016, Copenhagen, installation View
Daniel Levine, Untitled #8, 2012, oil on cotton, 18 x 17 3/4″

RemembranceDaniel Levine 

Contributed by Michael James Brennan / Daniel Levine was a dear friend, a constant presence in my life. This isn’t a private sentiment, but rather one now shared, sadly and publicly, by a great many people, mourning his recent and sudden passing. It?s impossible to imagine no longer encountering Daniel at an opening, or savoring the conversation that would inevitably follow on the sidewalk afterwards. I have many great and varied memories of Daniel Levine, but the best ones occurred on the sidewalks of New York. 

I got to know Daniel through conversations about painting. In 1990, John Zinsser, a mutual friend, introduced us at an art opening in the East Village. We began talking, then went to Odessa where we dined (cheaply) and drank, and Daniel smoked. Our conversation lasted long past the opening, in a restaurant that never closed. None of this was atypical. Daniel was good humored and impossibly erudite. We thought deeply about everything – discussing, examining, scrutinizing.

Daniel Levine, 2010, Sonja Roesch Gallery
Tomorrow’s The Day , 2003-2005 , oil on cotton , 12″ x 11 7/8″ 

Daniel was some years older than me, but being a native New Yorker he seemed much more advanced. At 32, he was already past the beginning of his career. He had shown extensively, successfully, in the 80’s, and his work was well-placed in key collections. I was a graduate student at the time, and he read me like a book. I mean, he knew exactly which books I had been reading based on what I was parroting. So, he was something of a mentor and guide for me from the get go. Daniel had a multitude of real experience.

Our conversation continued, expanded, over the next 30 years. It happened in studios and used bookstores, at poker tables, at parties, high and low, at listening parties, where Daniel would play his prized 78’s. Blind Willie Johnson, One String Sam, Mississippi Fred McDowell. It happened over beers, wine, flat whites, in museums and galleries of all kinds, viewing art, evaluating art, sometimes online, but mostly on sidewalks afterwards, Daniel smoking.  

Daniel Levine, Untitled #1, 2002, oil on cotton, 10″ x 9 5/8″

Everyone knows, and sometimes bemoans, the fact that entire new art worlds emerge, dizzyingly, every three years or so. Daniel was unbothered, confident in his own aesthetic arrival early on. “I’m there,” he said convincingly. More recently he told me, with genuine satisfaction, I’m happy to be doing my own thing”.

Daniel is best known for his white monochrome paintings. He spoke of the misadventure of painting them as something like going for a walk in the desert.” The full range of his work is not so categorical, and a large amount of it is media-derived, sourced in such things as Timothy O’Sullivan photographs of the West, zoomed-in vignettes of Jennifer Jason Leigh’s hair, miniaturized Morris Louises, sponged color paintings, combinations of Cyan, Magenta, and Yellow, to highlight just a few series. Daniel loved the work of Robert Ryman, among many painters, not for its tidy formulation, but rather for its quality as well-painted painting. I think Daniel admired Ryman’s painting the same way Ryman admired Matisse’s, through pleasure. Some of what I’m revealing is debatable, hidden history. 

Daniel Levine, Stephanie Theodore Gallery, 1992, Installation View

Daniel did not arrive at white monochromes via any modernist orthodoxy, rather, he came to it via the Buffalo School of Post-Modernism, an Infotainment-informed, post-Pictures Generation mentality. Paradoxically, he came to monochrome painting from across enemy lines. He paired his sharp, generational, intellectual scrutiny to an equally fine and personal sensitivity to surface. He devised many unlikely painterly processes to achieve his (literally) impressive sense of touch, his soft hand. Each painting was deftly individuated – nothing was ever rote or mechanical. His was a profound investigation of painting itself, those qualities that animated material, beyond image, skeptical of mere facticity, skeptical of the enforced metaphysical, trusting in painting only, and the recognition of such, believing in facture, and the wild joy found and released therein.

We’re all walking in the desert now, alone, without Daniel.   

About the authors: Michael Brennan is an abstract painter in Brooklyn, New York. Russell Floersch is a painter in Long Island City, near PS1/MoMA, in New York.

One Comment

  1. Thank you, Michael and Russell, for these finely observed portraits of Daniel Levine, a rare soul in the New York art scene. In Michael’s phrase, my friendship with Daniel was mostly carried out on NYC sidewalks, but outside any number of different galleries. Articulate, passionate, humorous, brimful of curiosity and critical acumen, Daniel had bracingly ecumenical taste that kept me on my toes. It was always a pleasure to run into Daniel. I last recall seeing him at an after party for one of my events but I don’t need reminding that he was generous in his encouragement of my own efforts, and now he’s gone I realize he is precisely the kind of mind and heart we critics and curators depend upon in our work. I’m actually only just now noticing through these tributes that Daniel died- I’m here at 2Coats to read Laurie Fendrich’s new story and took a peek at the tributes to see if something has been written yet on my old friend Duncan Hannah. Duncan and Daniel were two very different gentlemen. A banal commonality is that they both smoked tobacco and died of heart attacks very unexpectedly. Anything but banal in either case is the vacuum they leave in their passing. No moralizing, just observing. ז״ל‎

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