Outside the Box
Sol LeWitt earned himself a place in history books as one of the Johnny Appleseeds of the minimal and conceptual art movements during the Sixties. He's also among the most prolific artists of the mid-Twentieth Century.
"Sol LeWitt x 2," a two-part exhibition at the Miami Art Museum (MAM), offers fertile ground to explore both the artist's influential work and the contemporary art collection he has created over the past 50 years.
Featuring 45 works on paper and sculptures, "Sol LeWitt: Structure and Line" provides a broad look at the artist's oeuvre, spanning from his early grid-based modular constructions of the Sixties to his recent series of Scribble drawings making their debut at MAM.
The Lewitt retrospective is displayed in three galleries, beginning with his most recent work and wending backward chronologically to culminate with one of the monumental wall drawings for which the artist is perhaps best known.
Entering the exhibit, one is struck by the playful nature of the free-form computer-generated "structure," a term the artist uses instead of "sculpture" to identify his three-dimensional works. The pieces dominate the center of the space. Splotch #20 looks like a giant melting chocolate-and-vanilla Dairy Queen soft-serve cone, and seems like a radical pendulum swing from the austere minimalist riffs on the cube that first earned LeWitt attention. Not surprisingly, wall text informs that the iceberglike curvilinear fiberglass piece rigorously adheres to the artist's systems-based approach to his creations. These "splotches" begin with LeWitt's sketch of a "footprint" (a view of the form from above) and are executed by his fabricator, Yoshitsugu Nakama, with the help of computer software. They are identical in height, width, and depth, the same as a cube.
Nearby a batch of large gouache-on-paper drawings fills the gallery walls with color and explores line techniques from various angles.
LeWitt's Horizontal Lines series takes on the shape of undulating waves or twitchy radio frequencies. One large drawing, rendered in muted grays rippling over a burgundy background, resembles a close-up view of the weft of an antique carpet.
A drawing from his Brush Strokes series, its vertical lines bursting with primary colors, seems to fan out like a branch of coral, while an Irregular Form next to ittakes on the appearance of a mercury spill on a bed of mustard.
A quartet of the artist's recent medium-size pencil on paper drawings, called Scribbles, is among some of the more unusual work on exhibit. Densely calligraphic in nature, the drawings seem the work of a mad doodler, with one piece hinting at someone smiling through a bristly beard, and another suggesting a bushy Afro.
In an adjacent room, Continuous Forms of Color is a scroll-like gouache on paper drawing that gives the impression of looking through the prism of a kaleidoscope, its fragmented shapes glimmering with salmon, green, brown, gray, and powder-blue hues.
In this space the exhibit transitions to LeWitt's signature geometric forms. Another gouache on paper piece, Form Derived From A Cubic Rectangle, depicts what appears to be a staircase rendered in luminous yellow, orange, and red. Form Derived From A Cube is an aluminum structure painted white in the center of the room.
A model and several photographs reference the imposing outdoor structures LeWitt began creating in the Eighties, using concrete blocks as a medium and executed by modestly skilled laborers. Although early examples were simple cubical forms, some of his recent towering public works convey the feel of a city's skyline in full bloom.
The third gallery houses some of the monochromatic modular structures and grid-based drawings through which LeWitt made his bones.
One drawing explores the permutations for organizing vertical, horizontal, and diagonal lines within a square.
Drawing For Open Cube Structure, an ink and pencil on paper work, charts an arrangement of several identical open cubes, a form consistently cropping up in his work since the Sixties.
An early example is Modular Wall Piece with Cube, from 1965, a work fashioned from white-painted wood that's reminiscent of a flattened box kite with a cube jutting out from its end.
In Horizontal Progression #3, a cool white enamel on aluminum piece from 1991, LeWitt seems to kick his signature geometric shape into hyperdrive. The structure looks like the skeletal remains of a cloud-piercing skyscraper that has been toppled to the floor.
MAM has also commissioned one of the wall drawings that, beginning in 1968, became a staple of LeWitt's career. The artist has designed over 2000 versions of these works. The bulk of them are created by assistants, based on LeWitt's instructions, and the artist himself rarely sees them other than in photographs.
Wall Drawing #3 cuts a 40-inch by 25-foot band of russet along the length of a wall just above eye level. It took two of the artist's assistants eight days to complete and varnish the work. It will be destroyed after the exhibit closes.
The original design stems from 1969 and was created in black and white. For this version the artist added color, creating a pattern of three overlapping diagonal and vertical lines in black, red, and blue. The work gives the impression of the old school graph paper once used to teach children cursive handwriting. The effect is so subtle that one might easily walk by the piece without noticing it.
The second half of the exhibit, "Selections from the LeWitt Collection," consists of nearly 100 works culled from the artist's private collection, which he began assembling in the Sixties. (He was joined by his wife, Carol Androccio LeWitt, in developing the collection when they married in 1982.) It resembles a museum's holdings in scope, and offers a remarkable historical view of contemporary art trends.
Hans Haacke's Condensation Cube is an eyecatcher. Water is trapped in a Plexiglas cube, evaporating and condensing on the walls of the clear box depending on the atmosphere of the gallery.
Accession V, a knockout Eva Hesse piece, is fashioned from a galvanized box with rows of holes on its surface, through which the artist painstakingly threaded short lengths of rubber tubing. The top section of the box is open to reveal the nubs of the protruding hose, giving the interior of the sculpture a menacing porcupine-quill vibe.
Some of the works reflect LeWitt's deep personal connection with his colleagues, including pieces that are dedicated to the artist and his children on their birthdays.
Charles Simonds's Birth is a series of color photographs depicting the mud-caked artist emerging from a hole. It is signed with a fingerprint, and expresses happy birthday wishes to Eva and Sophia, LeWitt's daughters.
An untitled embroidery, ballpoint ink, marker, and pencil on canvas piece by Italy's Alighiero Boetti was created for LeWitt's 60th birthday and is addressed to the artist, his wife, and kids.
This half of the show brims with works by such artists as Carle Andre, Alice Aycock, Bernd and Hilla Becher, Jan Dibbets, Dan Flavin, Donald Judd, Robert Mangold, Brice Marden, and Robert Ryman, among many others.
The exhibit reflects LeWitt's enduring influence on, and the personal bonds he has formed with, his peers, while demonstrating how the artist's cubes have challenged the thinking process within the contemporary art world.
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