The BEST: Sol LeWitt: A Wall Drawing Retrospective
Reviewed by Shira Hecht-Koller
Summary: Sol LeWitt: A Wall Drawing Retrospective at MASS MoCA is a landmark installation which includes forty years of LeWitt’s work covering nearly an acre of wall surface – built to the artist’s specifications – over three stories of a historic mill building in a 19th century former factory in North Adams, MA. The project was conceived by the Yale University Art Gallery in collaboration with the artist, and executed by Yale, Mass MoCA, and Williams College. The wall drawings – big, bold, and evoking a vibrant network of lines, grids, arcs, and circles alongside cubes and spheres floating in the air – were executed over a six-month period by 24 assistants, many of whom worked with LeWitt over decades. They were joined by undergraduate and graduate students from colleges and universities around the country.
As one of the leading conceptual artists of the 20th century, Sol LeWitt (1928-2007) emphasized the idea behind each work over the finished product of the work itself. The son of Jewish immigrants from Russia, LeWitt was prolific in a wide range of media – including photography, drawing, and printmaking – though he is most well-known for his deceptively simple geometric structures and scaled wall drawings.
Why is it The BEST?
Is it not uncommon for one standing before a work of art to feel a sense of distance, as the works of great masters are humbling. It is natural for a viewer – even a connoisseur of art – to feel intimidated in their presence. This is not the case in viewing the works of Sol LeWitt, particularly in the aggregate as they appear in Mass MoCA. Is it easy to get lost in the lines, to roam amidst the rhomboids, and be enveloped by the vibrant patterns etched on the walls. Viewers are invited to meditate on the nature of space, to feel the sensory effects of light, to draw themselves in the graphite lines, and be colored by the playful panels. There is little distance between the viewer and the wall.
This may be because while the walls reflect the vision of one, they are executed by the hands of many. The process by which they were created is one of collaboration. All of LeWitt’s geometric structures and scaled wall drawings follow a set of basic instructions that, in theory, can be executed by anyone. In fact, listed on the wall label accompanying each individual work are the names of each person who contributed to its making.
It is this open and democratic vision at the core of LeWitt’s art that – in my mind – makes it the best.
Walking through LeWitt’s walls at Mass MoCA on multiple occasions, both on my own and with my children, at times experiencing quiet moments of solitude and reflection and at other times racing after my little boys dashing and dancing their way around and amidst the flashes of light and color, I cannot help but draw lines to the experience felt when studying as a community in a Beit Midrash. Our sacred texts sit at the core of my very being, with a set of instructions to follow, a vision articulated, guidance provided. But we do not just stand in awe at the art created by someone else. We are drawn in as part of the process. We are all invited to be part of the art of talmud Torah, and given the opportunity to be collaborators in the creation of beautiful and intricate tapestries (or wall art). There is an Artist, but we are all part of the artistic team.
Shira Hecht-Koller, Esq., is Director of Education for 929 English and a faculty member at Drisha.
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[Published on February 13, 2020]