An Exchange with Sol LeWitt

Cabinet & MASS MoCA

Through March 5 & March 31
by Veronica Roberts

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      Jackie McAllister
      Exchange
      2010
      Photograph courtesy of Jaime Permuth

      View Gallery

      For this issue, …mbg invited Veronica Roberts to give us a sneak peek of works included in An Exchange with Sol LeWitt. The exhibition, on view at Cabinet magazine’s headquarters in New York (January 21-March 5) and MASS MoCA in North Adams, Massachusetts (January 23-March 31), is organized by independent curator and writer Regine Basha. Currently based in New York, Basha lived in Austin from 2002-2008, where she organized independent projects, worked as Adjunct Curator of Arthouse at the Jones Center, and co-founded Fluent~Collaborative. 

      In keeping with the two-part nature of the exhibition, …mbg will feature a second installment of coverage for the exhibition. Check back for a review by Roberts in our February 18th issue.

      Sol LeWitt began trading works of art in the 1960s, swapping paintings and drawings with artists such as Robert Mangold, Robert Ryman and Dan Flavin. Little did LeWitt realize at the time that his MoMA coworkers (Mangold, Ryman, and Flavin worked as security guards, while LeWitt was an evening receptionist at the museum) would become enduring friends, or that these early exchanges would evolve into a lifelong practice that would result in a collection of more than 3,000 works.

      Taking as her cue LeWitt’s generous practice—which began with friends but ultimately included pretty much anyone who asked—curator Regine Basha created the exhibition An Exchange with Sol LeWitt. In her open call for submissions, she invited anyone interested to submit a work of art they thought LeWitt would like. Tributes poured in from around the globe, from people who knew and loved Sol to distant admirers in Brazil and Slovenia. Students from schools across the country responded to the invitation as well, including the School of Visual Arts in New York (where Sol once taught), the Rhode Island School of Design, Indiana University, and an entire class of fourth-graders from LeWitt’s hometown of Chester, Connecticut. The gifts came in every shape and size, such as a small jar filled with remnants of a scraped-off LeWitt wall drawing, a wisdom tooth, a CD of Cedar Tavern Singers (a Canadian “art-ernative folk art band”) singing an extraordinary letter LeWitt wrote to Eva Hesse, and an anagram from Lucy Lippard. Beginning this week, all of the nearly 1,000 works of art that arrived at the offices of Cabinet magazine or landed in Basha’s inbox will be on display at one of the exhibition’s two venues: at Cabinet magazine’s Brooklyn headquarters or MASS MoCA. Below is a preview of a few highlights from the hundreds of works in the show.

      Jackie McAllister, a New York-based artist and author in his forties, paid tribute to LeWitt by constructing a cube out of red, yellow, blue, gray, black and white stacked Lego pieces—a playful nod to the primary colors that LeWitt used as the building blocks of color for his wall drawings. Although LeWitt restricted himself to using just the three primaries and black or gray in his wall drawings for two decades, by layering lines and bands of color he was able to produce every hue imaginable.

      Leah Beeferman, a 28-year-old artist based in New York, first learned about LeWitt’s work as an undergraduate at Brown University. As she recently relayed to me, the elegant drawing she produced for the show comes from an unexpected source: “Lately I've been very inspired by scientific and mathematical diagrams and patterns. I was hoping to find a pattern that would feel LeWittian but would be based on a mathematical principle.” After consulting with several math-savvy friends, she finally settled on a mathematical pattern of growth known as a “cobweb design” because of the chart’s resemblance to a spider’s lair. “I felt like this combination of order and disorder made via a systematic process—especially one based on lines and geometry—was really suitable as a gift to Sol LeWitt.”

      An artist in his forties living and working in Buenos Aires, Daniel Joglar embraces chance and intuition in his work, as his 2006 Workspace exhibition at the Blanton Museum in Austin attested. In this photograph of pick-up sticks, first clenched in a fist and then scattered, Joglar offers a wry nod to the instruction-based nature of LeWitt’s work, although the instructions here seem to be simply to let go.

      Lacey Fekishazy’s Learned LeWitter emerged from her experiences helping to realize half a dozen LeWitt wall drawings in the current exhibition at Dia:Beacon. “Engaging and inspiring other artists came naturally to Sol LeWitt” is the first of ten reflections that the 30-year-old artist shares in shaky, all-caps text in the drawing. While the work she did at Dia was grueling—for three solid months her job was to hold a straight edge so that senior drafter Anthony Sansotta could lay down perfect lines—Fekishazy clearly relished the process.

      In his fifties and based in San Francisco, Sid Garrison makes colorful abstract square drawings out of colored pencil. Working at a modest scale and within self-imposed limitations, he nevertheless finds ways to make exuberant shapes, patterns and line dance on the page, as seen in this small, pink drawing. Garrison’s work, like LeWitt’s, reminds us that the artistic possibilities of ordinary pencils remain infinite.

      One of the unexpected highlights of the show is an anagram Lucy Lippard made, which she presented below the inscription, “LOSS but still LOL from SLO LL.” An acclaimed art critic, curator, activist, and author of more than a dozen books, Lippard (now in her 70s) met LeWitt through their jobs at MoMA—she was a page in the library when he began working at MoMA selling books at a counter before becoming an evening receptionist. After forging a close friendship with LeWitt, Lippard curated a group show at Paula Cooper’s Soho gallery in the fall of 1968 that featured the artist’s first wall drawing.

      Veronica Roberts worked closely with Sol LeWitt when she coordinated his retrospective at the Whitney Museum in 2000. She is currently a Senior Researcher for the Sol LeWitt Wall Drawing Catalogue Raisonné, to be published digitally by Artifex Press.