Contemporary Artist, Sol LeWitt Large-Scale Paintings Assembled at MASS MoCA

Diane Dewey
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Sol LeWitt, Drawing 915.013

One hundred Sol LeWitt (American 1928-2007) floor-to-ceiling wall drawings are installed at MASS MoCA, North Adams, Massachusetts in 27,000 square feet of public gallery space. As sweeping as the exhibition is, it describes a very private discourse on the subject of line traced through the artist’s mind directly onto the walls.

Over a thirty year span, LeWitt diagrammed his meditation on the potency and limitations of geometry. The eye reads along the legible calligraphy of an intensely obsessive study of arcs done in a muted palette on floor one of the exhibition. These give way to boldness and brightness upstairs. Released from the grip of the pristine, forms become dynamic. We see the dancing skirt of a trapezoid and references to urbanism in Mondrian-esque grids. It’s time to try geometry on acid, without the flashbacks or bummers. Animated abstractions, (Escher-like fragments blown up and squeezed through a tube in the Pixar lab), later became embedded sculptures and architectural structures in LeWitt’s hands. But throughout the artist’s dialogue with line, we never lose virtual eye contact; rather we are drawn into his personal process. fine arts magazine artwork

Sol LeWitt, Drawing 1185.011

This MASS MoCA/Yale University /Williams College of Art collaborative installation considers the over twelve hundred wall drawings LeWitt realized from 1968 to 2007, which the artist grouped into movements called ‘families’. An intimate conversation with the family members ensues. Each query unravels that member’s (circle, triangle, square) particular response and releases its potential in breathtaking swoops.

Now the eye is riveted and the pace accelerates. Adrenalized vision darts to the next modern construct, then suddenly flies out the window to a tactile and quiet brick arrangement of buildings around a courtyard outside. Refreshed, it settles on the eroding paint at the windowsill. The artist has been aware of your wanderings. When you visually re-enter the room, he has placed black and white drawings exploring recessive circles or fade out lines that confront you with infinity. This ebb and flow of integration and disintegration – of matter to non-matter – belies the surface clamor of the interior works.

By the time you reach floor three, colors have turned electric. The surfaces are smooth and sensational, as if the family has shown up in patent day-glow jumpsuits. An undulating wave is tricked out in a black spandex cat suit, alternating gloss and matte finishes.

Sol LeWitt, Drawing 880.002. All photos by Kevin Kennefick, courtesy MASS MoCA

Taken together, the installation itself constitutes a massive set up of shapes configured to hold the tension between viewer and the wall; a gigantic, powerful family portrait taken at a reunion that, over time, has turned wild. Entropy prevails as if, until the artist actually hung out with them for decades, he didn’t get down to play and they didn’t get the nicknames that nailed them perfectly. The anthropomorphizing of shape here is not sentimental, just familiar, allowing for parody and distortion of the fun-house variety. We absorb the complexity of the family narrative as time condenses the deceptive simplicity of line.

This exhibition resides at MASS MoCA for twenty-five years, when viewers may register LeWitt’s world. It is both linear and multi-dimensional, creating the context for Minimalism and Conceptual Art. Is this installation freeing or constraining? If the images are so perfect that we feel the need to escape them, then perhaps images evolve – Damien Hirst’s spin paintings – afterward. Or, perhaps we’ve become compulsive. Certain liberation is to be found in LeWitt’s close examination; the extraordinary depth and substantive satisfaction of getting to know something or someone well. You bring your own visceral response to the acclimation, acknowledging and exhilarating at the essential common ground between disparate family members.

by Diane Dewey, Contributing Writer

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