Sunday, September 28, 2014

Sol LeWitt

Sol LeWitt may be what many people would mock as the stereotypical modern artist, with his bold colors, repetitive designs, and simplistic schemas. Most famously known for his wall paintings and his "structures" (as the original hipster, LeWitt abandoned the term "sculpture"), this blossoming artist began his life in 1928, when he was born in Connecticut to Russian immigrants. Despite this humble-sounding beginning, LeWitt was not the starving artist type. His mother took him to community art classes, which turned into studying art at Syracuse, and then landing a job as a clerk at the Museum of Modern art in 1960. One of the reasons why I enjoy LeWitt as an artist is because although he had a relatively privileged life, he was a top advocate for art as a public domain. LeWitt worked for an architect in 1955, which combined with The Xerox Book (a 1968 collaborative project to create low cost and easily distributed artwork) to spark the idea that an artist did not have to physically "make" the piece for it to be his work. In fact, 1968 turned out to be a very important year for LeWitt, when he created his first wall painting, truly redefining the terms of "ownership." Not only were these paintings virtually impossible to sell (they are, after all, directly on the wall), but LeWitt contended that copying the work was not forgery so long as the artist loyally followed his design. He even provided drafts of the wall paintings so that even today, years after his death in 2007, LeWitt's art can be installed in museums around the world. I was lucky enough to see the collection at Mass MoCA (Massachusetts Museum of Contemporary Art), and would highly recommend you all do the same if ever given the chance! Below are several examples of finished and drafted wall drawings:
Plan for a Wall Drawing (1975)
Wall Drawing #146 Mass MoCA (2008)
Wall Drawing #958 Mass MoCA (2008)
Wall Drawing #752 Private Home (1994)

I may have gotten ahead of myself in this discussion of LeWitt's art. It would be a mistake to ignore his structures, some of which can also be duplicated based on designs by the artist. Below are both the plan and a finished version of Incomplete Open Cubes:
Schematic Drawings for Incomplete Open Cubes (1974)
Incomplete Open Cubes San Francisco Museum of Modern Art (1974) 

Other structures were more traditional (if "traditional" could be used to describe Sol LeWitt), in the sense that they were either installations or made in LeWitt's studio:
Serial Project #1 (ABCD) Museum of Modern Art (1966) 
Splotch 15 City Hall Park (2005) 

Sol LeWitt was an artist who pushed the limits with both his productivity and the magnitude of his work. However, he was incredibly humble from beginning to end. LeWitt kept a small studio, avoided the limelight, and even turned down multiple awards. His sense of humor was closely tied to his art, as LeWitt once responded to an interviewer who commented on the novelty of his wall paintings that he believed the cavemen did it first. Even better, in my own opinion, was yet another 1968 project entitled Buried Cube Containing an Object of Importance but Little Value. This is, in fact, exactly what it sounds like. LeWitt built one of his trademark cubes and buried it in a local garden, with the entire process being documented only by the short series of photographs shown below. I include this as my last example of LeWitt's work for a couple of reasons; it is actually one of the relatively few photographs of the artist himself. But more importantly, the entire process shows a self-awareness of absurdity that makes me admire LeWitt even more. I am both saddened to realize how narrowly my own generation missed out on seeing this artist create new work, and gratified that his methodology means we can continue to make it for him.
Buried Cube Containing an Object of Importance but Little Value (1968)

"Sol LeWitt A Retrospect." San Francisco Museum of Modern Art, CA, 2000; Yale University Press, London. Print.

Baume, Nicholas; "Sol LeWitt Structures 1965-2006." Yale University Press, London. 2001. Print.

"Sol LeWitt 100 Views." Mass MoCA, North Adams, MA, 2009. Print  

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