Sunday, October 24, 2010

Sol LeWitt’s Wall Drawings at MASS MoCA

Located in a sprawling, former factory complex in North Adams, Massachusetts, the Massachusetts Museum of Contemporary Art (MASS MoCA) is the largest contemporary art museum in the United States. Its centerpiece is Sol LeWitt: A Wall Drawing Retrospective, three floors of wall-sized drawings and paintings conceived by LeWitt.

I say conceived because LeWitt’s role in the works is to describe how to make them. Others do the interpreting and executing, like how musicians interpret and play a composer’s score.

Here is an example, the fourth wall of Wall Drawing 289, with LeWitt’s instructions below the image.

A 6-inch (15 cm) grid covering each of the four black walls. White lines to points on the grids. Fourth wall: twenty-four lines from the center, twelve lines from the midpoint of each of the sides, twelve lines from each corner. (The length of the lines and their placement are determined by the drafter.)

Keep in mind, the little image above is of an entire wall. To give you a better sense of scale, consider this image of Wall Drawing 146A, including its surroundings.

This piece encompasses an entire room. It immerses you.

For LeWitt, the exhibition space itself was like a blank canvas. Given 27,000 square feet of open floor plan, LeWitt configured the space not just in which, but on which, his work would be displayed, down to individual wall specifications for each piece. He did this shortly before his death in 2007.

In 2008, over a period of six months, 62 artists rendered 105 of LeWitt’s wall drawings. This nine-minute video shows the process.

Process is an apt word because understanding LeWitt is as much about the processes and ideas as it is looking at the art. The MASS MoCA exhibit affords plenty of opportunities to learn about this context while providing a unique and impressive venue for the works themselves.

The only hitch is North Adams’ location. It is an hour from Albany, NY; two hours from Hartford, CT; and three hours from Boston, MA. The nearest interstate highway is almost an hour away, so chances are low that you’ll be in the neighborhood for other reasons.

Defying those odds, we arranged a weekend trip from West Hartford to Vermont, knowing MASS MoCA would be on the way. It was a great trip. Vermont’s fall foliage was on fine display. However, Sol LeWitt: A Wall Drawing Retrospective was the highlight.

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