New York

Sol LeWitt

PaceWildenstein 22

“The straight line tells the truth,” Piet Mondrian wrote. Does that mean the curved line tells a lie? Sol LeWitt’s recent wall drawings, grand loops applied directly on the gallery’s walls, were meant to be transient—the works were painted over before the next show. But while they were there, they stunned the eye. Both works—Wall Drawing #879/Loopy Doopy (black and white), 1998, and Wall Drawing #880/Loopy Doopy (orange and green), 1998—are ironic reprises of Op art, the simple geometry of which has an affinity with LeWitt’s own earlier neo-Suprematist squares. His works are also full of Op’s illusion-fueled faux intensity. Yet the cunning deployment of eccentric curves—sometimes heroic in scale, sometimes intimate—in the drawings results in a kind of derangement of perception more clever than contrived.

The drawings look like camouflage for a jungle operation. Wall Drawing #879, with its contrasting black and white, seems appropriate for a moonlit night, while Wall Drawing #880, with its blaze of complementary orange and green, would work for daytime combat. Both are full of, wild movement, at once silly and menacing. Because they were on opposite walls, with Wall Drawing #879 being a little over a third the size of Wall Drawing #880, we oscillated between them, as if between Scylla and Charybdis. Curving in on itself, the black-and-white drawing is more self-contained and limited, while the orange-and-green work seems to lack beginning or end, as if, despite its generally horizontal movement across the wall, it might go on indefinitely and invisibly beyond its framework. The effect is that of a roller coaster building to climaxes that sometimes don’t come or abruptly dropping from a height.

With its jarring, brazen color effects, Wall Drawing #880 is the tour de force. LeWitt has taken advantage of the fact that complementaries create a negative afterimage; his do so instantly. Though well matched, the orange and green never balance even provisionally, so that the drawing as a whole suggests a sensory catastrophe. The crazy, meandering curves—a kind of endless doodling—add to this, however ridiculous their initial effect. If we usually speak of movement from the sublime to the ridiculous, prolonged looking makes both drawings seem to reverse the cliché—perversely so, no doubt, for with the blink of an eye they may again become ridiculous.

One easily tires of ironies of contrast, and of reprises, for that matter, however ingenious they may be. But LeWitt’s ironies, with their urgency and inner contradictions, remain fresh and insidious. The startling color and nihilistic dynamics of his drawings suggest that he may even end up being remembered as a romantic painter, rather than a one-note Conceptualist.

Donald Kuspit