Installation of Lewitt's wall drawings at the Whitney, 2000.
Introducing Sol Lewitt (1928-2007) -- one of the fathers of "conceptual art", a giant, a genius, someone who has inspired leagues of other artists, and a handy guy to know about.
For him, the CONCEPT was the art. He asked, why can't a visual artist work the way an architect, or a composer works? Each are considered artists, and teams of others follow the blueprint or the score to "make" the work. No need to get your hands all painty making the thing.
Lewitt was famous for his "wall drawings". These are purchased by buying a set of instructions written on an index card. This is the "art". Whoever owns (or has been lent) the card, may execute the drawing wherever they like. If the instructions change hands (through a sale, or loan) -- the drawing must be painted over... and now may be executed somewhere else. The art is attached to the instructions... not just to the wall.
Instructions faxed by LeWitt to Franklin Furnace for Drafters of Wall Drawing 811
Here are some instructions (the art) that were faxed and then followed.
Wall Drawing 811 completed at Franklin Furnace
Check out his manifesto of sorts, from 1971, on conceptual art (and Lewitt clarifies that tho these are words about art, they are not art themselves!).
Whitney installation in progress, 2000
Also significant about Lewitt's work was how it invited other people to participate in the process of interpreting the instructions (sometimes huge teams were needed to execute these big wall drawings) and that the input of others — their take on the instructions, their joy, boredom, frustration or whatever — was part of the art. And, he would credit them (see below) in the exhibition of the work.
Wall Drawing #1183. Eight bands of color. First Drawn by: Takeshi Arita, April Ann Gymiski, Reese Inman. First Installation: Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum, 9/2005. All bands 3” wide
Assistant executing Sol LeWitt’s Wall Drawing #65. Lines not short, not straight, crossing and touching, drawn at random using four colors, uniformly dispersed with maximum density, covering the entire surface of the wall. © 2004 National Gallery of Art, Washington.
Wall Drawing #146. All two-part combinations of blue arcs from corners and sides and blue straight, not straight and broken lines. September 1972. Dimensions vary with installation
His wall drawings ushered in a now long tradition of making work directly on the wall -- recent recruits you've seen here before include Jeff Konigsberg and Geraldine Lau
In his words, "When an artist uses a conceptual form of art, it means that all of the planning and decisions are made beforehand and the execution is a perfunctory affair. The idea becomes a machine that makes the art.”
Lines to point on a grid. National Gallery of Victoria
Copyright (c) Sol LeWitt 1977. Photo: NGV
Along these lines... there are many artists working now that employ such "systems" for making their art -- for instance Lee Walton who uses a set of rules for making drawings of baseball games, or Elise Engler's "tax-onomies" that employ the concept of drawing an inventory to visually represent where U.S. tax dollars amongother kinds of inventories. Neither artist can predict ahead of time what the end results will look like -- they must apply their system and see what results.
All One-, Two-, Three-, and Four- Part Combinations of Bands of Color in Four Directions, 1993 – 1994, Gouache on paper, Set of 64 sheets, each: 30 x 22 in.
Lewitt also loved exploring all the permutations of a set of shapes or lines, as above (one of 64 drawings that showed ALL the possible solutions). You can find this impulse alive and well in many contemporary artists; one instance is Barbara Cohen.
And I think my brother, as a toddler, must have been channeling Lewitt when early one sunday morning in the 70s, while our household slept, he undertook the following wall drawing. "Outline every tile in your bathroom by following the grout in orange magic marker. Dimensions variable."
Want to learn more about Lewitt? Check him out on this Guggenheim site.
Know any artists whose work would make a home a lovelier place? Send ideas to The Gallery. Thanks!