New York

Sol LeWitt

Candace Dwan Gallery

Certain art is deliberately aimed at the threshold of consciousness, at the fine line where awareness meets the void. Pointing to Muzak, the aural tranquilizer, some may claim all such art has to be pretty deadly. But the claim would be too broad. When used to challenge rather than stupefy, threshold art can render experience not duller but keener. An intriguing example is Sol Lewitt’s wall drawings at Dwan.

LeWitt works with wide expanses of texture so fine, so diaphanous, so unsubstantial that many are close to invisible. They float on their brilliantly lit walls like yard after yard of exquisite gauze. It is no coincidence that what faint patterns there are are really weaves, for LeWitt is interested in that most tantalizing of fabrics, the veil.

No Salome, a gallery wall is far more interesting with a veil than without. A veil changes the wall’s visual role from neutral background to exquisitely subtle presence. It is that faint presence—as texture, as plane, as place—and its rarefied play with the veil itself, that LeWitt’s art has called into being. He produces them by carefully scaling his image down toward nothing, a little as does the work of Robert Irwin, which scales sculpture down beautifully toward the shadow.

LeWitt’s faintness of image, then, in no way implies faintness of gift. Quite the opposite. But the drawings demand—it is their challenge as threshold art—a high level of alertness hard to muster immediately after walking the comparative sensory gauntlet of a street in midtown. LeWitt investigates the visual hush; he needs an extreme slenderness of means. Only those insisting that art should always shout, or at least sing, must be disappointed.

A book LeWitt has published recently isolates and analyzes his different weaves; each one gets a page. Given LeWitt’s skill with the veil, the book is disappointing. For in extreme contrast to the drawings on the wall, its lines, though still thin, are terribly heavy, so heavy that the effect is not of a fine veil but of tough chain mail. An art pitched so close to the spectator’s unconsciousness that his eye begins to notice its own visual static is a very different matter from squares like chain mail. A pattern book is quite useless when LeWitt’s strength lies not in pattern but in texture.

The contrast between the wall and book drawings point to an interesting difference between their two media. In a gallery, thanks to LeWitt, one can enjoy the exquisite areas next to nothing. But books seem still reluctant to get that visually subtle, perhaps because a publisher feels he must keep the strength of image per buck ratio high, must provide much visual quantity for the money, though quantity is exactly what is not called for.

Jean-Louis Bourge