A collaboration between Yale University Art Gallery, MASS MoCA, and the Williams College Museum of Art
Mass MoCA, North Adams, MA; 11:00 a.m.–5:00 p.m. closed Tuesday and Christmas: details.
With the chronological retrospective exhibition of the wall drawings of Sol Lewitt, Mass MoCA has duly taken its place on the stage as a magnet for contemporary art.
Mr. Lewitt was one of the core group of New York’s Minimal art movement that included Donald Judd, Frank Stella, Kenneth Noland and others.
“The will to a system is a lack of integrity”
This observation, which was a central axiom of Abstract Expressionism, doesn’t account for the fact that the material realization of any artwork is intrinsically programmatic―be it an Altamira cave painting or a Bach fugue.
The characteristics of Minimalism, Systemic, and Serial art are clean and mechanically precise conception and execution. These tenets developed antithetically in the generation of American art that followed Abstract Expressionism as a means of countering what was seen as its ambiguous language and artistic means.
The Proportio, Claritas, Integritas of Aquinas might actually be more apropos axiom as one of the themes in this exhibition.
Mr. Lewitt’s use of primary geometry and color, and his appropriation of the intimate media of drawing to the ends of mural-sized architectural works, reveals the ingenious scope of his thought process. Other painted murals in the exhibition use virtuosically executed staining, glazing and stencilling techniques. There are also a number of works done in carpenter’s blue chalk, or blackboard chalk.
The exhibition is laid out chronologically on three floors. Early works on floor A, middle period floor B, and late works floor C. The capacious gallery spaces at MOCA almost seem to have finally met with their true purpose. My uncle was a draftsman for Sprague Electric which was the previous occupant of what is now Mass MoCA campus. It’s hard for me to look at the draftsmanship in the exhibition without my uncle’s drafting hand tapping me on the shoulder
Mr. Lewitt acknowledged the influence of the pioneering 19th century photographer Edward Muybridge, whose early experiments with sequential firing of cameras to study motion have interesting parallels in Mr. Lewitt’s art.
The continuum between art and mathematics is a pervasive theme in this exhibition. The serial periodicity of these works, which use Pythagorean, Arabesque, and Cartesion geometry to achieve variability, also has interesting parallels to the algorithmic systems used in computer drawing programs. This will perhaps lend a freshly appealing and timely synergy to this exhibition for younger audiences―and complement the historical scope of its sources.
One of the many very large works in the exhibition, No. 1094, is made up of evenly distributed minutely drawn random curvilinear waves executed in colored pencil, where thousands of lines had to have been created by pencils that had to have been sharpened dozens of times to keep their points clean and sharp. The pencil company that got the contract for the exhibition might now be recession proof.
This work in particular evokes a question and answer:
Q: When is or isn’t an artwork graffiti?
A: When architectural space has been specifically allocated for its realization.
At an optimal viewing distance of about 15’ for seeing this whole mural, the time consuming detail of the lines that make it up become an evenly random colored texture. This technique of visual fusion, which has been in use since the Renaissance, is one that is used by mural size portrait artists like Chuck Close, who was one of the attendees at the opening reception.
A puzzlingly ironic programmatic dimension in this exhibition revolves around the mechanical quality that is achieved manually in this work. Intimately delicate linearity more characteristic of folio-sized drawing or printmaking is used to address architectural ends. Given that one of the canons of minimalism includes NO brush strokes or residual artefacts of the artist’s hand… these works are virtuosic, with an ingenious calligraphically gestural integrity permeating every square inch of the work in the exhibition.
Executed according to Mr. Lewitt’s algorithmically prescribed instructions… the question of what constitutes hand craftsmanship is unanswered… one that will have another twenty five years for MOCA viewers to answer.