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Sol LeWitt's final public wall-drawing

March 25, 2009 | 10:47 am

When “Sol LeWitt: A Wall Drawing Retrospective” opened last November at the Massachusetts Museum of Contemporary Art (Mass MOCA) in the old mill town of North Adams, the reviews were rapturous. Having just returned from there, it's easy to see why. This may be the most perfect union of contemporary art and architecture in the United States. It's our Sistine.

The building -- a 27,000-square-foot, three-story historic factory -- now holds 105 of LeWitt’s signature large-scale wall drawings. They span the artist’s career, from 1969 to his death at 78 in 2007. LeWitt designed the installation, although he did not live to see it finished, and it took my breath away.

While LeWitt was working on the Mass MOCA show, he was also preparing one of his last wall drawings for his final public project -- a mammoth black-and-white work for a new federal office building and courthouse in Springfield, roughly midway between North Adams and the artist's home in Chester, Conn. Running the full length of a curved, 300-foot corridor outside the third-floor courtrooms, it's the largest LeWitt I've seen. I walked the length of it for the video posted above.

“Wall Drawing No. 1259: Loopy Doopy (Springfield)” is a gem. In the last decade or so of his life, LeWitt made a number of drawings by ...

... taping together two pencils and rolling them through his fingers and twisting his wrist as he moved across the page. That became the template for the mural.

The energy of the piece derives from the way it negotiates the crazy play of its linear twists and turns with the strict rationality of the architectural setting. (The building was designed by Boston architect Moshe Safdie.) On a black acrylic ground, the wide white lines seem to emerge from the surrounding white-walled interior, which merges a rectilinear grid with a compound curve. Buildings can be eccentric, but they must also subscribe to the logic of structural codes -- which an artist can happily ignore. The loopy-doopy drawing, flooded with natural light from the building's glass facade and skylights directly above, takes that fundamental difference and runs with it.

Most any pilgrimage route to North Adams from the south or east goes through Springfield, but as far as I can tell this final LeWitt work hasn't been written about before now. Commissioned for the Art in Architecture Program run by the federal General Services Administration and installed last summer, it's worth a detour to see. More pictures follow below.

Meanwhile, the Mass MOCA website also has a terrific array of information about its retrospective exhibition, including time-lapse pictures of the installation in progress. Like the single Springfield work, the show was designed so all the drawings (with one exception) are on interior walls, which leaves the windows exposed around the building's perimeter walls. The LeWitt retrospective is on view until 2033 -- yes, a 25-year run -- which makes sense given the complexity, breadth and expense of what was involved in putting on the show. The museum worked with the art galleries at Williams College and, especially, Yale University on the project, and the partners will evaluate what to do when the quarter-century is up.

Call me loopy-doopy, but I suspect America's Sistine will become a cherished permanent fixture of the artistic landscape.

Loopy_doopy_courthouse Loopy_doopy_001

"Loopy Doopy (Springfield)" is on the third floor of the new federal courthouse.

Loopy_doopy_cathedral Loopy_doopy_hampden

The steeple of St. Michael's Cathedral, built in the 1860s, is seen out one end-window of the new federal building; the wall drawing wraps around the four courtroom entrances.

Loopy_doopy_arcade Loopy_doopy_staircase

For security reasons, the federal offices and courtrooms are separated from the street-side facade by a staircase and hall, but abundant glass allows natural light to flood the secure interior space.

Loopy_doopy_skylight_2 Loopy_doopy_skylight_2_2

Skylights run the full 300-feet of the wall that holds the drawing. Floodlights illuminate the wall at night, making the work visible from the street.

-- Christopher Knight

Photos & video: Christopher Knight / Los Angeles Times


 
Comments () | Archives (21)

This is fantastic -- thank you so much for the post, the photos and the video.

Amazing! Thanks for that - especially the video!

Donald Frazell said it well.

About this being the next Sistine Chapel, instead of the creation of man, we get the creation of loopy-doopies, which does seem appropriate for the critic.

Frazell fails to realize that LeWitt's interest in creating art on a wall is a direct response to Italian wall frescoes by masters like Massacio, or Giotto. LeWitt uses a visual vocabulary that is current, which adds to this conversation, rather than trying to duplicate previous efforts.

I wonder if Frazell considers Lorenzetti's frescoes "wallpaper"? (please don't answer)

Sorry but I agree with Donald. It's over intellectualized and graphically simple minded. No matter how much we appreciate the Artist Lewitt was, he and this piece are not deserving of this level of accolade. When will you critics stop currying favor with one another. Give me an handmade, Artist made Twombly any day. Get some huevos Knight.
JVK

Since there is obvious confusion in some comments, let me repeat what I wrote:

"... 'Sol LeWitt: A Wall Drawing Retrospective' opened last November at the Massachusetts Museum of Contemporary Art (Mass MOCA) in the old mill town of North Adams... This may be the most perfect union of contemporary art and architecture in the United States. It's our Sistine."


Christopher Knight says that Sol LeWitt's “Wall Drawing No. 1259: Loopy Doopy (Springfield)” is "a gem . . . our Sistine"---that is, our equivalent of Michelangelo's Sistine Chapel Ceiling and "Last Judgement." He forgot to supply a link to Rome's Sistine, however, so readers may want to enter "Sistine Chapel" at Google and click on the second result, the one whose URL starts with "mv.vatican."

But Sol Lewitt was not an artist, and none of his so-called drawings qualify as art---not by any objective definition of the concept I'm aware of, that is.

Note that we all can relate to Michelangelo's work in part because it depicts human figures, and we, after all, are human beings, not lines, which is what LeWitt's work consists of. That, in a nutshell, is one reason why the Master's work is art and LeWitt's is not.

Donald Frazell's comments have it right. Lewitt's piece is design, pure and simple. To Mr. Frazell's observation that today's colleges do not teach the difference between the different kinds of art, if I understand him correctly—between, say, fine art and decorative art (which is what Lewitt's work is)—I would only add that this is because they do not teach their students what art is in the first place.

What Mr. Knight was taught when he was an undergraduate (and graduate) is, in effect, that something is art if the artworld establishment says it is. Now he is part of that artworld. Roberta Smith, Mr. Knight's colleague at the New York Times, at least was upfront about it when she candidly once declared that she cut her "art-critical eye-teeth" on the dictum "If an artist says it's art, it's art."

--- Louis Torres, Co-Editor, Aristos / Co-Author, What Art Is (Open Court, 2000)

So according to Mr. Torres all art must contain figures? Surely some of Michangelo's work did contain lines? Did not the power of those figures rest also in the use of line?

It's true that LeWitt's work appeals more to the intellect and may require thought and reflection, rather than providing a viewer with immediately recognizable content. However, the complaints made about his work seem like they are from over 100 years ago, from someone who has just seen R. Mutt's "Fountain".

Frazell admits that "The line itself has power." but cannot see "complex rhythms and spark of life." the whole thing is a rhythm, a gesture writ large. To me, the composition exudes clarity, harmony and grace. The relation to negative space is obvious: if it isn't line, it's negative space and it's all very carefully orchestrated.

He goes on: "Line is melody, in itself just a lullaby or whistling, For without harmony-color, and rhythm-structure or composition, there is no thought, its just a game for children" Just yesterday I saw Michangelo's drawings for the Sistine Chapel (Block Museum), but they too consisted of only line. Therefore according to this logic, Michangelo's drawings, and indeed all drawing, is not creative art.

Plus, and Mr. Knight tried to clear this up, the comparison to Michaelangelo was regarding the MASS MOCA installations, not this single courthouse piece. The Sistine Chapel is incomparable, but Mr. Knight was providing a way (for Americans) to think about the MASS MOCA installation, and baiting his audience (successfully).

Frazell decries "academic art" (is he referring to LeWitt?) while quoting Hamlet and leaving his worn-out Latin quote, isn't that rather academic?

Academic is the self proclaimed Pharisees retardation of what is true. Yes, Lewitt is solidly academic, and his line is graphic, not creative. I has no life. Michelangelos drawings are studies, they are art, but nothing compared to the full works themselves. No harmony, but the melody and rhythm is there. All great visual art is poetic or musical, not the prosaic crap of decadent times. like the Academys of the late nineteenth and tweintieth centuries
LeWitt is no Michelangelo, let alone a serious creative artist. He is a glorofied graphic artist, and thats fine, but call a spade a spade, and a mediocrity a mediocrity.

Since when is Shakespeare Academic? What art college did he go to? oh, thats right, no great artist has ever graduated from an art college. NEVER. You fools live off of artists, the artiste is a parasite, that thinks he is the host. You have no life, you drain it. No one cares, and no one will go see. Just like MoCA. Its nice if you work there, better than the typical taupe walls of hotels and business. But hardly life exhalting. Its background, Wallpaper to whatever life actually goes on.

art collegia delenda est

. . . so only Michelangelo's drawings can be art?

Frazell says "you kids got a rather low vaulted ceiling of art in your limited conceptions. "

Which is highly ironic when you're the one arguing until you're blue in the face, week-in week-out about how this isn't art, and that isn't art either. And I have limited conceptions of art?

Who suggested Shakespeare went to art school?

Frazell your logic about everything, from art to Shakespeare, escapes me.

Exactly

art collegia delenda est

The "Sistine" , as you say, was a chapel and not a hallway full of doorways (leading to toilets at times) . If you are referring to the sistine ceiling then I think you need to explain why you think that a wall and a ceiling are comparable.
Did Lewitt do any ceiling works?

I'm not confused at all. I'm questioning the legitimacy of your comparison and your Art/political motives for making it.
It is not surprising to me that Yale was involved in some way in this project. The academic realities of Yale Art has tended towards over intellectualism and simplified design for a long time, from Josef Albers to Al Held and now with Dept. chair, Peter Halley.
As for Donald... an anti-intellectual/ anti-education stance is foolish to say the least. Can you also tell the guilty by looking at their eyes?
JVK

Sol LeWitt was a talentless idiot. The people who like him...welll...a bigger fool theory applies. That L.A. is devoid of art (see the Getty Museum for an example of expensive looted nothings) but for the LA County Museum of art is sad. That LA tried to pretend with Mr. LeWit is a tragedy for all but the visually impaired.

I was one of the people who worked on the Springfield Drawing from the earliest mathematical point plotting to the last coat of paint. It was a throughly remarkable experience with two rolling scaffolds of people painting on three levels simultaneously. We painted with the enthusiasm of an Amish barn raising , each coat took us about 4 hours to cover the 220' x 16'. There is nothing about the drawing that can be compared to wall paper. It is alive with forceful, dancing lines that feel as soulful as any traditional painting. You really need to be there and not form judgments from photos. What is surprising about Sols' work and evident in the MassMOCA installation is the the driest, most mathematical instructions can make subtle or intense drawings that elicit a wide range of aesthetic responses. I have never felt the same about wall paper.

. . . So no real response to my questions?

I'd like to point out to Mr. Brown that nothing in this article has to do with LA. Both the courthouse and the museum are in MA.

It's too bad no one will take the time to think about LeWitt's work and are invariably judging it via the internet rather than in person. You have absolutely nothing to lose by learning more about an art work or an artist and absolutely everything to gain.

You answered your own question Stoker. You dont know, everything escapes you.

And it isnt a photograph, its a youtube video, if that doesnt work, its not worth wasting the gasoline to go to it. It's like Duchamps stopages. But instead its several strands of spaghetti dropped and outlined. If you got a buncha no nothing students painting it for you, its not creative art, its design. One layered and dull at that.

And CVK, I am all for knowledge, but in the creative arts, you cant learn that in a sterile academic setting, never have, never will. All the technique in the world is worhtless if you have nothing to say visually, for genius is 10% inspiration, and 90% persperation, and that means having lived life, understanding its FEEL, its multialyered being. Intellectualism is for plainly unintelligent people. Its a system one can learn, where the believer thinks he can understand all with the mind, with theories, with words.

Art is a visual purely language, the knowledge is sought outside, in the real world, not the confines of academia Which are safe and sterile to foster study, not learning, which is multileveled. Of mind body and soul. You take away any one, and you are crippled, take away two, and you are a fool.

art collegia delenda est

Hello Carl, those were a few crazy days, no? Thank you Mr. Knight for your compliment, I can tell you everyone is proud of the work realized in Massachusetts. As an artist who worked six months at MASSMoCA (and one who has seen the Sistine Chapel), I think North Adams will be a pilgrimmage site for several generations of artists, international and domestic.

Perhaps Mr. Frazell you can visit these sites and we can meet to descuss your rather particular and narrow views of contemporary art? You should include DIA:Beacon on the mini tour. And yes, if you care to research, Sol has work on the ceiling in Europe and North America- beginning with the Philadelphia Museum of Art, Toronto Intl. Airport, and Reggio Emilia library in Italy (the spelling could be off there).

Perhaps someone can answer this: when is a line not a line? To take it further, when is art not art? It seems like these questions are still fresh. Or is that being too intellectual?

Sorry, but if you hadnt noticed we are both in a Depression and must stop wasting precious fuel resouces, as well as stop polluting. Traveling for no reason is over. except for you silly spoiled folks. The rest of us got things to do, like live life. Not stare at silliness til it seems important. Man is an exceptional beast, especially at deluding oneself into believing what one wants to believe.

If I go anywhere it will be the Mediterranean, Istanbul and the rest of Turkey above all. As a history major, that is most important adn culture filled area of the world, the spot between three continenets, and more cultural layering than any other spot.

Unlike this guys stuff, which is copying spaghetti strands and pretending it is art. It WALLPAPER kids. It may very well be perfect for the spot, but lacks the three things that define Creative art. Defining Mankind, Exploring Nature, and Searching for God. This isnt even about a individual beings silly fears andarroagance, its just design. Dull at that.

Wow, four hoours worth of work to paint it, while it took Michealngelo almost four years on the Sistine chappel. That really compares, and reveals the great texturing and depth of passion in Lewitts "work". LOL!

art collegia delenda est

Perhaps if you keep on rereading The Secret you will actually believe this nonsense.

 
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