The Octopussarian Drugstore Cowboy

Alfred Leslie has not left the building

There have been many paintings since, plus a lifetime achievement award from the American Academy of Arts and Letters. In 2002, Leslie released The Cedar Bar, an orgy of appropriated film footage—Hollywood musicals, Holocaust documentaries, hardcore porn—combined with voice-overs from his reconstructed 1952 play about the legendary artists' watering hole and the eternal war between creators and critics. (The original manuscript went up in smoke in '66.) A sinister cabaret clown opens the show by gibbering, "Artists are a vulgar and stupid lot," followed by such stalwarts as de Kooning waxing insightfully on the meanings of art. Jackson Pollock's shade is summoned through an old Twilight Zone episode about a 19th-century cattle rustler transported to '50s New York—he can't cope, and you just know it's gonna come to a bad end.

Leslie has outlived his bad ends—O'Hara's death, the fire, critics' excoriations—all because, back in the '50s, he looked at his cameras, typewriters, stage sets, and canvases and "saw it all as one fucking piece." A tad vulgar, sure. But never stupid.

Alfred Leslie  in his studio with portraits from his Ten People series (1990-2000).
photo: Robin Holland
Alfred Leslie in his studio with portraits from his Ten People series (1990-2000).

Leslie's show, which includes daily screenings of his films, continues at Allan Stone Gallery, 113 East 90th Street, through December 22.

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