New York

Sol LeWitt

The Metropolitan Museum of Art/Madison Square Park/PaceWildenstein

Sol LeWitt’s practice might be perpetually fecund, but this summer still saw him achieve such an unprecedented level of visibility in New York City that one paper was prompted to unceremoniously declare it “The Summer of Sol.” LeWitts were encamped across the city, from the safe haven of PaceWildenstein to the tourist-packed roof of the Metropolitan Museum of Art and the leafy refuge of Madison Square Park. This ubiquity continued unabated through mid-October with Paula Cooper Gallery’s presentation of the artist’s gouache series “Horizontal Lines, Black on Color” (2005). Yet summer’s glut alone facilitated the drawing of distinctions between his various modes and fostered debate about the continued efficacy of his site-specific art.

LeWitt has famously been called our most gifted solipsist, a title that he has held since Conceptualism’s heyday in the late 1960s. Driven by ideas and only secondarily concerned with how they became materially visible, LeWitt’s prior work shunned illusionism and aestheticism alike. But the contrived Technicolor interventions of “Sol LeWitt on the Roof: Splotches, Whirls and Twirls,” one wall drawing and five free-standing painted fiberglass “Splotches”—were ultimately, unfortunately, an anemic populist exercise in institutional accomodation, affirmative rather than critically contextual.

The towering Splotch #15, 2005, is a looming stalagmite that, by virtue of its oozing color, evokes melting crayons or a sweaty popsicle. Splotch #7, 2002, recapitulates a comparable form, the contours of which are more visible owing to its white skin, while Splotch #8, 2002, offers a molten tower of gothic black—a Banks Violette coaxed into the light. However, as a series, these structures appeared framed by the park and the buildings that abut it, miming and mirroring its lateral spread and intermittent peaks in their outlines. Splotch #3, 2000, thus brought to mind Gabriel Orozco’s incisive Isla dentro de la isla (Island Within an Island), 1993, a photograph of a makeshift re-creation of Lower Manhattan counterpoising the “real” scene (World Trade Center included) in the background.

Oddly, though not wholly inexplicably, the twin towers also became a referent for LeWitt’s Madison Square Park installation, as most viewers can’t help but see the twenty-five-foot-wide ring of Circle with Towers and the eighty-five-foot-long serpentine Curved Wall with Towers (both 2005) as echoing the ill-fated buildings. LeWitt once argued for art as a communicative act, where “a work of art may be understood as a conductor from the artist’s mind to the viewer’s. But it may never reach the viewer, or it may never leave the artist’s mind.” In Madison Square Park, even if unintentionally, his art becomes more telegraphic than telepathic, signaling just how imperfectly sublimated the city’s fears remain. For works that aim at integration into the urban fabric, these unyielding concrete stacks still manage to upset it, psychically if not physically.

Maybe that’s why LeWitt’s show at PaceWildenstein fared best: Here, finally, was art about art about ideas. Two massive graphite wall drawings—which required fifteen assistants and are the artist’s largest to date—filled two walls with looping tracery. In Wall Drawing #1166 Light to Dark (Scribbles) and Wall Drawing #1167 Dark to Light (Scribbles) (both 2005), blackness was alternately absorptive and reflective. Thick and sponge-like at close range, from across the room they developed intense energetic fields, the former emptying out at its center and the latter becoming denser. Perhaps there’s no such thing as “pure” LeWitt, but in achieving an effective balance between the conceptual and the retinal, these came as close as one could ask.

Suzanne Hudson