|Image courtesy of MOMA.|
Art: Sol LeWitt 1928-2007
The American-born artist Sol LeWitt, 78, died due to cancer-related complications on April 8.
One of the true pioneers of The Geometric, LeWitt enjoyed an impressive career that was born out of 1960s Minimalism and spanned the next four decades. His transitions from one medium to the next were seamless, including his endeavors in sculpture, photography, and his much-lauded painting installations.
Out of his work in the Toronto area, one such piece that falls into the painted category is LeWitt’s project at Pearson International Airport. The work entitled, “Wall Drawing #1100, Concentric Band” has lines shaped into a pattern bend into the shape of an airport skylight, poised above one of the incoming gates.
Much of his work was just as site-specific, including his more recent showings at the Art Gallery of Ontario, who exhibited his work at Swing Space and in the Shape of Colour exhibition.
Considering LeWitt’s considerable stature, it’s curious to consider that the artist also remained press-shy. Curator David Moos of the AGO agrees: “He never did public lectures, and was never a rabid self-promoter.”
Rather, Moos — who worked with the artist on a number of occasions — insists that the work is of such a caliber that there was little need for excess promotion.
Moos explains that this is also part and parcel of LeWitt’s strong artistic philosophy. “So many artists have to be out there, selling their work, networking, being generally social, but [LeWitt] never operated that way.
“1960s Minimalism was a launch-pad from which LeWitt developed his work, but he was also one of the most popular artists who effectively removed his work from his own personality and persona. As much as his work is about process, so too we see the work being absent from the artist’s own personality.” Logically, declining interviews and distinctly lacking public eccentricities would be part of that equation.
Logic and rhythm were also essential components of LeWitt’s work, as Moos explains. “He was very rational in his approach to every piece, especially as it related to his work at both the AGO and Pearson Airport.
“Equally intriguing were his ideas of free-association, however, as he also created work in processes that involved several professionals after an idea had been conceived,” says Moos about the manner in which LeWitt’s wall paintings were applied, and at the AGO’s Swing Space in particular.
“Pieces were often for a team of artists to complete, many of whom had worked with LeWitt before…. making his ideas that much more radical,” Moos adds. “When he began these sorts of endeavors in the ’60s, the idea of a painter was still applying oil, with a brush, on a piece of canvas.”
And in many instances, it still is. But as compelling as the Swing Space work is both as a process and a finished piece, it too is temporary. The installation will remain only until the current gallery/building renovations are complete.
This is where one can find the context in which LeWitt’s work remains truly timeless: it may be conceived again, without the artist present, in a different space, should an institution acquire the rights to do so. The artist specifications survive, and so too do the individuals that worked with him so closely to ensure their execution. So conceivably, LeWitt works can continue to be installed according to his specifications for years to come. And while art history always mourns the loss of a giant, this last, subtle gesture wins as the most profound.