LeWitt’s Linears


By Tanya Silverman

Wall Drawing #340 A. Photo courtesy of keriluamox.

“Most ideas that are successful are ludicrously simple,” Sol LeWitt wrote in his Paragraphs on Conceptual Art.

Numerous ideas manifested by LeWitt, an American conceptual and minimalist artist who lived from 1928-2007, were successful, as they became installed throughout many walls and grounds of the world’s famous art institutes. As such, LeWitt’s ideas were often simple, written as artistic plans to be carried out by third-party drafters. Hundreds of them were titled numerically, like Wall Drawing #305, “The location of one hundred random points,” or Wall Drawing #106, “Arcs from the midpoints of two sides of the wall.”

Wall Drawing #681 C. Photo courtesy of Cliff.

Conceptually–and visually–hundreds of LeWitt’s wall drawings are linearly themed. Wall Drawing #17 is “Four-part drawing with a different line direction in each part,” while Wall Drawing #86 is “Ten thousand lines about 10 inches (25 cm) long, covering the wall evenly.” Both of these illustrations are exhibited at the Sol LeWitt retrospective at MASS MoCA until 2033.

At the Metropolitan Museum in New York, there’s LeWitt’s Wall Drawing #370 which is “Ten Geometric Figures (including right triangle, cross, X, diamond) with three-inch parallel bands of lines in two directions.” Five drafters spent four weeks installing the art as black-and-white lines. Across the immense, sleek slate, they incorporated a circle, a parallelogram, a trapezoid, and rectangles as the remaining shapes.

Wall Drawing #370 is imposing with its big, bold contrasts, especially since the dense lines reflect onto the floor, and even across the gallery’s hall, onto the glass that covers Composite Series, LeWitt’s smaller silkscreen set. It becomes difficult to study the latter’s colorful little lines without being influenced by the black-and-white glare that shines from the wall behind.

Wall Drawing #289. Photo courtesy keriluamox.

However, as LeWitt saw it, all of the work’s material effects–whether in installation, realization, or interpretation–come secondary in significance to its original concept. What us spectators take from it, he wrote, wouldn’t even really matter to him because, “Once it is out of his hand, the artist has no control over the way a viewer will perceive the work.”

For whatever you can make of the existential state of LeWitt’s “simple” idea in Wall Drawing #370, the opportunity is available in New York until next September, when the lines are painted over.