In 1968 Sol LeWitt installed his first Wall Drawing as part of a group exhibition in New York. Upon closure of the show, LeWitt advised that the wall should be repainted, erasing the drawing permanently. However, he stipulated that the drawing could be re-installed in any other location by any individual if they followed his instructions correctly. Before his death in 2007 Sol LeWitt devised approximately 1,200 Wall Drawings which follow the same principle. The exhibition at Fundación Botín brings together, as the title suggests, seventeen of these Wall Drawings, which have been installed by four LeWitt Studio trained draftspersons and 15 local artists from Santander.
In 1967 LeWitt wrote that ‘all intervening steps, scribbles, sketches, drawings, failed work models, studies, thoughts, conversations are of interest. Those that show the thought process of the artist are sometimes more interesting than the final product.’ It is this fundamental focus on the fleeting, transitory aspects of artistic development rather than completion which defines the nature of LeWitt’s work. A key protagonist in the establishment of Conceptual Art, LeWitt attributed greater importance to the creative process than the resulting artwork itself. This shift of emphasis resulted in the separation of concept from its execution.
Creating a recipe or a manuscript for the work rather than the art object, LeWitt challenged the significance of the hand of the artist. He created a system which both continues the importance of artist as creator (even long after his death) but also dismisses the necessity of creator as artist. Within this framework the drawing can be re-created and re-evaluated 30 years after it was first devised; boldly dismissing any precious sense of nostalgia.
Some of the drawings in the exhibition are accompanied by their instructions – either as an additional wall text or, as instructed, within the drawing itself. These vary from reasonably straight-forward to almost impenetrable. For example, the directions for ‘Wall Drawing 237’ are made up of one relentlessly self-referential sentence: ‘a trapezoid whose top side is half as long as its bottom side and whose left side is one and a half times as long as the top side and is located where a line drawn from a point hallway between the centre of the wall and the upper left corner….’
The description used for ‘Wall Drawing 118’ is much simpler: ‘50 randomly placed points connected by straight lines’. Although, conversely, this drawing is perhaps the most complex in appearance. Lines intersect and criss-cross, creating a dense, angular infrastructure. The idea of randomness here is a clear indication of LeWitt’s willingness to relinquish control, but also his understanding of the complex relationship between discipline and chance. The wall itself controls the placement of the dots; the dots control the lines. This is randomness within confines; chaos within structure.
‘Wall Drawing 46’ was first executed in 1970 a few days before the premature death of LeWitt’s friend, and fellow artist, Eva Hesse. This particular drawing is the oldest in the show and became a crucial addition to LeWitt’s linear vocabulary. It is made up of very small lines which are not straight and are not touching. In this variation, the simple instruction produces an effect similar to wood grain. The irregularity of these marks is a reference to the characteristic contours of Hesse’s work. It is a mesmerising combination of the regulated and unregulated; evoking something both solid and volatile through logic and linguistic clarity.
The exhibition is an excellent presentation of LeWitt’s theoretical ethos. Carefully selected by curators John Hogan and Benjamin Weil, the Wall Drawings on display showcase LeWitt’s unrivalled system of creation which simultaneously includes and eludes him. He established an art form that is both transient and permanent - each variation to be erased with the unlimited potential to be re-established elsewhere. LeWitt’s Wall Drawing’s are rooted in the Conceptualism of the 1970s but their requirement of perpetual re-birth means they will always feel fresh and contemporary.