New York

Sol LeWitt

John Weber Gallery

As usual, Sol LeWitt has provided a deluge of conceptual and visual information to digest. His exhibition takes up all of Weber’s available space and is a process of education where two large pieces in particular, and LeWitt’s current preoccupations in general, are elucidated by additional drawings and sculpture.

The development of LeWitt’s wall drawings is complex and is obscured by the fact that, although they are usually recorded, they are removed from gallery and museum walls and are most permanent only in private residences here and abroad. In the February 1972 issue of Arts, all the wall drawings to date were listed, with some photographs. Briefly and only generally, the drawings began as accumulations of ruled lines within areas squared off on a wall. They expanded to cover entire walls with accumulations of lines which have varied tremendously in terms of density, evenness, kind, color, length and frequency. Sometimes the lines occurred within grids which have varied from 1“ to 4’ square. A series of drawings with a 4’ grid had blue crayon lines, noticeably heavier than the pencil grid (seen in LeWitt’s last show at Weber)—a difference in line weight which is developed further in these recent ones. Some drawings have resulted from simply connecting all points of architecture on a given wall, while in others closely spaced concentric arcs radiated out from each corner and/or side of the wall. The instructions, accompanying the drawings, relatively short until recently, have allowed the draftsmen varying degrees of freedom (to the extent that some read like performances: ”Ten thousand straight lines drawn by one draftsman, one thousand lines a day, for ten days, within a 10’ square").

Sol LeWitt’s wall drawings have always involved three components: instructions to mark on a wall. In the drawings shown here, a type which LeWitt has been making for over 1 1/2 years, the three elements are both inextricably combined and individually elaborated as never before. It is a big change and the increased complication is both conceptual and visual. Combining impenetrable but complete instructions with two different kinds of drawing, one generating the other, these recent drawings are visually quite simple and bold. The series is titled The Location of Six Geometric Figures: a parallelogram, triangle, square, rectangle, circle and trapezoid, each on its separate wall. Each figure, drawn in black crayon, is clear and stark, floating arbitrarily (or so it seems) near the center, but neither centered nor parallel to the edges of its wall. Behind it is an irregular network, a “subdrawing” of points, lines, dotted lines, sometimes shapes, which seems to generate, in some unclarified way, the first figure. This hard “top drawing” is flat and frontal, and made more so by the soft, spatial vagueness of the sub-drawing, which falls inward, at times almost describing a horizontal plane, like a Renaissance cartoon. The contrast is total and dazzling. Each drawing, one over the other, has its own space, dimension, function, material, degree of legibility. The subdrawing’s pale elusiveness matches its incoherence, both of which are reduced by the written instructions.

The instructions first establish the final geometric figure to be located: “a rectangle whose left and right sides are two-thirds as long as its top and bottom sides and whose left side is located where . . .”; “a triangle which is drawn between three points the first of which is located. . . .” It is uphill from here as each set of instructions goes on in a single extended sentence to describe point by point and line by line the intricate plotting of the subdrawing. Using the points which are the center of the wall, its four corners, the midpoints of its four edges as well as the elaborate possibilities of midpoints between any of these, LeWitt has devised a way to locate the geometric figure he wants, on any wall. The instructions are long and dense. A series of smaller drawings elsewhere in the exhibition and on LeWitt’s announcement make it possible to follow the verbal and visual plotting at once. (The shortest, The Location of a Rectangle, is plotted by seven points and only three lines, in pencil on the wall, and by fourteen lines, in English on the announcement.) Think about “the point halfway between a point halfway between the center of the wall and the lower left corner.” That is just one point, forget what it connects to. The instructions present exactly everything that is seen and also form an independent impenetrable block of language, one which is very resistant to being simply an aid to vision. We accept the accuracy of these blocks, particularly the big ones, much the way we used to accept that an earlier wall drawing covering an entire surface did, in fact, contain “ten thousand straight lines.”

While LeWitt’s language has expanded to be exactly equal with what is on the wall, his marks have contracted and become more specific. He no longer covers a surface with marks or lines which sometimes form another continuous surface. He is locating particular points and shapes which exist within and only within each surface. The degrees of constancy and uniqueness have both increased. The relentless instructions are a constant of total, unvarying control; applied to any wall they will yield the predetermined geometric figure. But each wall is equally constant and the instructions adjust to it organically and internally —not simply by extension. Scale, size and location of the geometric figures shift dramatically, as the smaller drawings reveal. What we see establishes each wall as a unique entity, first as a physical surface and then as a geometric space: an accumulation of points behind yielding the final, frontal figure. LeWitt opens the wall up to an illusion of space which, initially visual, is ultimately conceptual. The whole process is visually accessible, is clear in the two kinds of drawing and in a glance at the first few lines of the instructions; you can take it as far as you want. In these drawings LeWitt has reduced his usual three elements (instructions, marks and wall) to three series of points, almost (but not quite) on the same continuous line. He makes us more aware of the way that each can function geometrically and abstractly as he stresses the obdurate essential way that each is its own distinct physical self.

The second part of this exhibition is titled Variations of Incomplete Open Cubes and consists of 107 of them, each with its own photograph and drawing. The cubes, 8 inches square in 1/2“ white wood, are grouped on an enormous table, the drawings and photographs cover the walls. The photographs and drawings have been published as a book, perhaps the most immediate and appropriate way to grasp this work. An open cube has 12 sides, or parts, as LeWitt names them. An incomplete one has from 3 to 11 parts. (One or two parts would be two-dimensional and would not imply cubeness, maybe one reason LeWitt stopped at three.) LeWitt has produced all the possible variations, proceeding from the three possible three-part variations to the one possible 11-part variation. In between the process expands outward, reaching its peak with 32 eight-part variations and then contracting inward; there are only 25 nine-part variations. The orderly accumulation of these cubes on the white gridded table suggests the accumulations we are used to in LeWitt’s earlier sculpture. However here each unit is both separate and unique, although its uniqueness is only most apparent in its drawing or photograph. The accumulation on the table remains, like the instructions for the wall drawings, somewhat impenetrable and resistant to vision. Seven large versions, 40” square in painted metal, are clearer and more interesting, despite their cramped installation. An obvious alternative to LeWitt’s earlier complete open cubes, these newer ones force us to see them as a series of parts, a series of numbers, as well as an accumulation of individual geometric eccentricities. But this plethora of information is based on one idea from beginning to end and the clearer it gets, the more redundant it becomes. Finally we are most aware that we are seeing a production number, a compulsive single gesture, the determination simply to do it, to fill it in. The cubes are shown up by the scale and openness, the conceptual and visual complication of the new wall drawings. Two and a half years ago I wrote, in Data Magazine, that I suspected LeWitt’s wall drawings were his most interesting work. This show confirms it; always good, they are now better than ever. They proceed through a process of thought and experience which is way beyond filling in.

Roberta Smith

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