Friday, December 5, 2008

Simply Sol

For the past couple of days I’ve been hearing about the excited reception of Sol LeWitt’s near permanent installation at Mass MoCA, Sol LeWitt: A Wall Drawing Retrospective. While I’ve always been pretty fascinated with conceptual art and particularly interested in LeWitt’s wall drawings (or to be more precise, his instructions for the wall drawings), I’ve never heard anyone share this interest. In fact, most people interested in understanding LeWitt’s work and who have asked me to explain it respond by shaking their heads. Okay, perhaps this says more about my explanation than it does about LeWitt. But the truth remains so many people are willing to celebrate artists like Rubens who employed a number of artists to complete his commissions, yet LeWitt’s practice of the same is often met with disdain.

So why is everyone so excited about Sol LeWitt now? Can it only be that he died so recently? Perhaps his recent death has spurned a host of LeWitt shows (there were two in Cincinnati earlier this year), but expressions of beauty linked to LeWitt’s work leaves me dumbfounded. Since when has his wall drawings been viewed as beautiful?

The review of the current retrospective by Holland Cotter in the NY Times seems to offer a hint as to why LeWitt’s work is now appealing to the masses. In this review Cotter says about LeWitt’s wall drawings on display at Mass MoCA,
“They aren’t populist in that way; they were meant for the great indoors. But neither do they depend on elite settings — museums or galleries — to make sense. They are abstract, not arcane. Their visual effects can be complex, but their language is plain: lines, colors, clean surfaces, the basics of grade-school art class. No wonder they feel welcoming; they take us back to the past before they take us somewhere else.”

So we enjoy LeWitt’s work because we don’t have to think about it? It is beautiful because it is “grade school” easy? Beauty and Conceptual Art are not mutually exclusive are they? Perhaps I need to work on my explanations so I can convince more that beauty does rest in the concept so fewer will shake their heads in disdain.


Anonymous said...

I would argue that the same folks who shun / don't get Sol would have similar feeling about many of Sol's peers and contemporary art in general (Stella, Judd, Kelly as examples of peers). Many folks who I have met who, at first, 'shake their heads' have a change of heart after explaining more about his technique. Sol was pioneering in his emphasis on the concept and not the technique. I am glad to see that there is extra excitement due to MMOCA, but I know that Sol has long been a world-renowned artist with wall drawings in almost every state & dozens of countries. I think it should also be said that Sol's generosity towards his peers, his shunning of the public eye and his employment of other artists to help their careers speaks volumes about his character.

Me said...

I agree and like you have always grouped LeWitt with Judd and the others. Though this more recent exhibition and especially the reviews I've read recall instead Warhol.

Warhol is not named specifically, but I just wonder if Sol Lewitt is being "Pop"-ped.