Review by Elke Segers
‘Ideas of wall drawings alone are contradictions of the idea of wall drawings (1).’ Exactly. By separating an artwork’s very conception from its execution, American conceptual artist Sol LeWitt (1928 - 2007) revolutionized the history of modern art. Although reminiscent of the Italian Renaissance fresco tradition, his monumental drawings testify of a more vibrant relationship between words and action. Like a composer or an architect, he conceives his work beforehand, using meticulously written instructions and plans expressing concepts or ‘thought processes’, thereby relying from the very beginning on the skills, dedication and input of others for its completion. Never did LeWitt realize one of his wall drawings himself, therefore annulling the ‘post’ in posthumous and haling in the drafters’ interpretation. Unprecedented in Belgium, twenty-four exclusively coloured wall drawings of the over1200 he imagined in total, have been installed directly on the surfaces of the exhibition walls of M, Museum of Leuven. Each of these was selected in close collaboration with the LeWitt Collection, Chester, Connecticut, ensuring that they perfectly embrace the museum’s characteristic architecture. The museum’s allotted walls are equally prepared along detailed instructions, depending on the materials and techniques in play, as befits any worthy protagonist.
On a more formal level, the works selected in M, dating from 1969 to 2003, immerse one wholly into the miracles of arts and crafts, revealing thousands of fine pencil lines, bolder lines and simple geometric shapes in crayon, more complex shapes in chromatically rich washes of India ink, and exuberant systems in bright acrylic paint. Each of the consecutive museum rooms corresponds to one single medium fully exploited by the artist; each medium is shown in its full grandeur in colour, texture, form, dynamic, volume, and illusional and divisionistic effects, letting slip LeWitt’s exceptional knowledge. Moreover, each medium experiment spans about one decade of the artist’s interest, thus creating a feeling of walking through the evolution of LeWitt’s most emblematic practice. The credit line tops it off, the title including the instruction or concept of each work and the names of its first drawers together with the place of its first realization, determining the date of each work. Far from demystifying, this making-off information engages the spectator, rendering sensible the joint energy put in, as well as the outright fun to conceive and realize them.
Some examples: in Wall Drawing #29 (1969) the artist couples each line direction with a colour, each filling a quarter of the square. Next to it, Wall Drawing #87 (1971) superimposes in a simple progression the four different line directions and colours, tricking the fourth square to contain circles. Wall Drawing #299 (1976) continues this crayon exploration on three coloured panels, introducing the regular reference points adopted by the artist. The lines (length and number determined by the drafters) end at randomly selected points but always on intersections of the pencil grid. Wall Drawing #449 (1985), based on a series of assembled triangles apparently unfolding and permuting, resembles a pyramid landscape. In order to achieve the various colour nuances, LeWitt gave clear instructions as to how many coats of which colour need to be pampered on top of one another and in what specific order. All the more intricate LeWitt’s sets of guidelines and diagrams are, the simpler all the variations and permutations seem to give way to a majestically radiating inner beauty, potential errors complementing it with a human extra. All kinds of variables are ‘conceptually’ surpassed and aesthetically stretched to their extremes’ all but the concept of infinity: ‘The wall drawing is a permanent installation, until destroyed (2).’ Or ‘liberated’, as the idea is everlasting.
1. First published in Art Now: New York, vol. 3, no. 2, New York, June 1971
© LeWitt Collection, Chester, Connecticut
2 First published in Gregory Battock (dir.), ‘Documentation on Conceptual Art,’ Arts Magazine, vol. 44, no. 6, New York, April 1970, p. 45.