Sol Lewitt

Centre d'Art Contemporain Genève

The new exhibition rooms here provided nearly ideal conditions for Sol LeWitt’s new wall paintings. A generous complex of exhibition spaces has taken shape in a skylit hall that formerly served as a cafeteria, its centerpiece a square room open on one side. A room-within-a-room has thus been created, an art space that, far from camouflaging its affinity with stage space, emphasizes that quality. These spatial and atmospheric conditions contributed substantially to the effect of LeWitt’s wall paintings by introducing an element of theater and allowing them to appear in a new light.

The work, Stars from 3 Points to 10 Points, 1983, consists of eight quadratic paintings covering three walls and separated from one another by vertical bars of gray. Each pictorial field, blue in color, presents one star, the first with three points, the second with four, and on up to ten. The choice of color is piquant: the stars are essentially yellow. A yellow, ribbonlike outline delineates their form precisely, but the stars don’t seem contained by it; instead, its width gives them a certain substantiality. The interiors of the stars are orange and so have greater affinity with the yellow border than with the complementary blue of the surrounding field. This very pronounced choice of colors results in a tension between the individual forms, but this tension does not make for disharmony, or for a back-and-forth fluctuation between foreground and background, edge and center. On the contrary, it produces a kind of sublimity. The blue negative shapes, the yellow outlines of the stars, and their orange centers achieve a certain independence which allows them to coexist without competing with one another, each one sovereign in itself.

In marked contrast to his rather gloomy black wall paintings, these newest of LeWitt’s works are fundamentally cheerful in mood. The airy, permeable application—a watery China ink is dabbed onto the wall—reminds one of the airiness of fresco paintings through which shines the sensual quality of plaster and masonry. It is also reminiscent of watercolor technique. One can see in this a homage to Italy, LeWitt’s present home, but the method points clearly beyond this purely anecdotal component. An individual, painterly signature is being suggested, even though LeWitt himself does not execute his paintings. An artistic pathos is evoked here which finds complex, prismatic expression against the theatrical backdrop mentioned above. Furthermore, the pictorial objects—the star constructions—take on something of a narrative, fairy-tale touch as an ancillary effect of their colors, for yellow stars on a blue ground plainly evoke the poetic commonplace of the Romantic night mood. These aspects of the work, however, remain in the background; indeed, it is possible that they are entirely dependent on the unique staging of the piece in this space.

For the geometry of the star is the predominating element of the work, and it is followed through with the greatest precision and care, manifesting its meaning through its insistency. If the seriousness of Lewitt’s rationalism is pierced, as it were, by all manner of atmospheric and even narrative elements, they only serve to reinforce the concept: the precise image of the star, which even in its variation remains in a certain sense the same, begins to reflect its effects. In this, the Geneva wall painting touches on a central theme of LeWitt’s work.

Max Wechsler

Translated from the German by Leslie Strickland.