New York

Sol LeWitt, Wall Drawing #368, 1982/2016, color inks and india ink, dimensions variable. Installation view. Photo: Steven Probert. © Estate of Sol LeWitt/Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York.

Sol LeWitt, Wall Drawing #368, 1982/2016, color inks and india ink, dimensions variable. Installation view. Photo: Steven Probert. © Estate of Sol LeWitt/Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York.

Sol LeWitt

Paula Cooper Gallery | 521 West 21st Street

Sol LeWitt, Wall Drawing #368, 1982/2016, color inks and india ink, dimensions variable. Installation view. Photo: Steven Probert. © Estate of Sol LeWitt/Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York.

Over a multifaceted career that spanned more than five decades, Sol LeWitt executed hundreds of wall drawings, scores of sculptures, and countless drawings, prints, photographs, and books. An exhibition on view at Paula Cooper Gallery’s multiple locations in Chelsea showcased LeWitt’s amazing range—and, by including work by Liz Deschenes, reminded us of his generosity toward younger colleagues. (A concurrent presentation at Miguel Abreu Gallery also paired LeWitt’s work with Deschenes’s.) His art was variously sumptuous, obsessive, inventive, gentle. Ever since LeWitt died in 2007 at the age of seventy-eight, it’s become clear that more than any other artist associated with the early days of Minimalism, his work deviated dramatically from the standard definitions of this movement. By the end of his career, his art was monumental and, on several occasions, when it wasn’t bright and colorful, expressed an elegiac quality.

The centerpiece of the recent show was a massive wall drawing filling the gallery’s cavernous principal space with an array of thick black and white bands arrayed horizontally, vertically, and diagonally in two directions, plus three smaller sections with red, blue, yellow, and white stripes that reiterated the theme of horizontals and diagonals. The black and white bands jumped out at viewers with the retinal intensity of Op art, while the colored parts could be as seductive as cutouts by Henri Matisse. But it was the overpowering size of Wall Drawing #368, 1982, that most impressed. The directions call for a “wall [to be] divided into five equal parts.” At Paula Cooper, that entailed four sections being wrapped around corners. As for the “dimensions [being] variable,” they can range from small to gargantuan. Wall Drawing #368 surely looked different at the Walker Art Center, Minneapolis, where it was first installed, in January 1982. That’s one of the thrills to be derived from LeWitt’s art.

White Styrofoam on White Wall and Black Styrofoam on Black Wall, both 1993, stretched from floor to ceiling in Paula Cooper’s front room facing Twenty-First Street. Comprising thick Styrofoam pieces broken apart and then put back together with spaces between the elements, they are tactile works. Think giant jigsaw puzzles. Moreover, they’re completed with latex paint. LeWitt, it appears, had no qualms about breaking rules to which he seemingly once adhered. At a certain point, wall drawings no longer had to be executed in a limited range of pencil colors. Moreover, these wall works, first executed at Düsseldorf’s Konrad Fischer Galerie in September 1993, are just as non-expressive as any of LeWitt’s work, yet they are evocative nonetheless, bringing to mind, say, the binary of day and night.

Then there was the subdued twelve-by-twelve-foot wall drawing in a smaller space across the street. Though ten thousand random lines four inches long coursed through its square, you could be in the back gallery for a few minutes before you realized this work was there. First executed in Madrid in January 1996, it featured black pencil lines that were faint, haphazard, and, in forcing viewers to get close to the wall, intimate.

The rest of the show included drawings on paper, etchings, photographs, and sculpture. It was a treat whether you were a connoisseur of LeWitt’s classics or just being introduced to the artist for the first time. The lines rendered in the seven etchings from 1973 on display had such a distinct rhythm, they could have been choreographic notations, with which LeWitt was familiar from having collaborated with Lucinda Childs on her production of Dance (1979). Especially noteworthy was the compelling range of images and subjects in five series of photographs from four decades. There were intriguing geometric cuts on maps of Florence, from 1976; light moving across a brick wall, shot in 1977; a sampling, from 1980, of items found in LeWitt’s apartment, rendered as autobiography; a cube swelling from small to large, dated 1997; and A sphere lit from the top, four sides, and all their combinations, 2004.

Finally, the show was rounded out by LeWitt’s practically unknown Structure with Standing Figure, 1963, which features a vertical black box with openings on four sides revealing a nude woman with small breasts and long, straight hair; nearby, one found four large nonrepresentational UV prints on Plexiglas by Liz Deschenes. LeWitt’s sculpture is one of a small number of works from this period that incorporate representational imagery. Deschenes’s pieces are monochromatic planes of color. Together, they compactly condense the variegated history of Minimalism.

Phyllis Tuchman