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Sol LeWitt: Structures 1965-2006

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Sol LeWitt: Structures 1965-2006

About the Exhibition

Sol LeWitt (1928 – 2007, b. Hartford, CT) was one of America’s most inventive, prolific, and influential artists. He created significant bodies of work in two and three dimensions, including drawings, photographs, prints, and sculptures (known as “structures”). An originator of minimal and conceptual art in the 1960s, LeWitt helped to transform the artistic thinking of both his contemporaries and subsequent generations of artists. In his radical approach to how art could be made, the artist’s subjective decision-making was only one aspect of the creative process. His art typically took shape in relation to something existing outside of his imagination – such as a geometric progression or a series of variations. In this way, LeWitt created works of art that could not have been conceived through traditional approaches to composition. As the artist famously wrote in 1967, “The idea becomes a machine that makes the art.”

This outdoor retrospective of structures, the first of its kind, charts the development of LeWitt’s work from the early white geometric cubes through to the late, multicolored organic forms. Over more than forty years, LeWitt’s creative method proved surprisingly open-ended, allowing him to continually experiment with new ideas and materials. This exhibition is intended to generate dialogues not limited by the classifications of art history and the museum, juxtaposing LeWitt’s structures with both natural and architectural forms in the city that helped to inspire his art.

This exhibition is curated by Nicholas Baume.

Sol LeWitt: Structures, 1965 - 2006 is made possible by Forest City Ratner Companies, Agnes Gund, Jonathan Sobel and Marcia Dunn Foundation, The Pace Gallery, Tishman Construction Corporation, David Wine & Michael P. MacElhenny, and anonymous donors.

Major support provided by Elise & Andrew Brownstein, Mickey Cartin, Virginia Dwan, Gladstone Gallery, James Cohan Gallery, Naomi Milgrom Kaldor & John Kaldor, Kraus Family Foundation, Jo Carole & Ronald S. Lauder, Ellen & George Needham, Paula Cooper Gallery, Linda & Andrew Safran, and an anonymous donor.

Additional funding provided by James Keith Brown & Eric Diefenbach, Gabriella De Ferrari, Fifth Floor Foundation, Steven Henry & Philip Shneidman, The Joelson Foundation, and David Teiger.

Location

City Hall Park

Bordered by Broadway, Chambers Street, Centre Street, and Park Row

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Exhibition Checklist

Modular Cube, 1965
Painted wood; 1'3" x 1'3" x 1'3"; LeWitt Collection, Chester, CT

Three-Part Variations on Three Different Kinds of Cubes 3 3 2, 1967/74
Painted steel; 4'6" x 22'6" x 1"6"; LeWitt Collection, Chester, CT
This work is part of a larger series of 56 variations on three different kinds of cubes. Each structure in this row of eight is made up of three cubes in a vertical stack. Some of the cubes are open on one side while others are open on both sides (a third kind of cube, closed on both sides, does not appear in this group). The series is one of the earliest expressions of LeWitt’s pioneering use of seriality – the creation of art through an objective chain of permutations.

Large Modular Cube, 1969
Painted aluminum; 5'3" x 5'3" x 5'3"; Exhibition copy; Emanuel Hoffmann Foundation, on permanent loan to the Öffentliche Kunstsammlung Basel
After creating an early body of work comprised of closed form wooden objects, heavily-lacquered by hand, in the mid-1960s Sol LeWitt “decided to remove the skin altogether and reveal the structure.” This skeletal form, the radically simplified open cube, became a basic building block of the artist’s three-dimensional work. From 1969, he would conceive many of his modular structures on a large scale, to be constructed in aluminum or steel by industrial fabricators.

Double Modular Cube, 1969
Painted aluminum; 10' x 5'3" x 5'3"; Exhibition copy; Titze Collection
Each of Sol LeWitt’s large open cubes is 63 inches high, approximately eye level. At this scale, the artist introduced bodily proportion to his fundamental sculptural unit, which he then worked through in “the most poignant (simple, basic, intelligible)” variations. Double Modular Cube is a simple combination of one cube atop another, while later related works (Three x Four x Three, 1984, and One x Two Half Off, 1991, in this exhibition) increase in complexity.

Incomplete Open Cubes, 1974
Painted aluminum
Incomplete Open Cube 3/2; 3'6" x 3'6" x 3'6"; Private Collection
Incomplete Open Cube 4/5; 3'4" x 3'4" x 3'4"; Exhibition copy; John Kaldor Family Collection
Incomplete Open Cube 5/2; 3'4" x 3'4" x 3'4"; LeWitt Collection, Chester, CT
Incomplete Open Cube 6/9; 3'4" x 3'4" x 3'4"; LeWitt Collection, Chester, CT
Incomplete Open Cube 7/12; 3'5" x 3'5" x 3'5"; Courtesy of The Pace Gallery, New York
Incomplete Open Cube 8/25; 3'6" x 3'6" x 3'6"; Courtesy Paula Cooper Gallery, New York
Incomplete Open Cube 9/2; 3'6" x 3'6" x 3'6"; Courtesy of The Pace Gallery, New York
Incomplete Open Cube 10/4; 3'6" x 3'6" x 3'6"; Courtesy of The Pace Gallery, New York
Incomplete Open Cube 11/1; 3'6" x 3'6" x 3'6"; Courtesy Paula Cooper Gallery, New York
In the mid 1960s, Sol LeWitt began to work with the open cube: twelve equal linear elements connected at eight corners to form a skeletal structure. With the series Incomplete Open Cubes, LeWitt turned his attention to subtraction. His question was: how many variations of an incomplete open cube exist and what do they look like? LeWitt empirically identified 122 unique variations through the systematic subtraction of elements from an open cube. Nine examples have been included here (three south of the pathway, six to the north). The selection includes one one from each numerical group beginning with a 3-part variation (the minimum number of elements needed to imply three dimensions), ending with the single 11-part variation.

Three x Four x Three, 1984
Painted aluminum; 14'1" x 14'1" x 14'1"; Collection Walker Art Center, Minneapolis; Walker Special Purchase Fund, 1987
The large-scale open cubes of Three x Four x Three perform a simple numerical operation – the addition and subtraction of one element – while simultaneously altering their configuration. Three cubes connected on a horizontal axis and three cubes connected on a vertical axis frame four cubes each connected on two sides. This stepped, triangular form is further elaborated by Pyramid (Münster), 1987, in this exhibition.

Complex Form 6, 1987
Painted aluminum; 8' x 16'9" x 4'; Courtesy of Fred Dorfman and Dennis Rosenthal
Sol LeWitt became interested in making irregular structures in the mid-1980s. For the Complex Forms, the artist drafted a two-dimensional polygon and placed dots at various locations within it. As the form is projected into three dimensions, those interior points are elevated into space at different heights. The elevated points dictate the seams of the object’s multi-faceted surface. The Complex Forms introduce irregularity into LeWitt’s structural vocabulary – an idea that is further explored, for example, in Splotch 15, 2005, in this exhibition.

Pyramid (Münster),1987
Concrete block; 13'4" x 13'8" x 13'8"; Fisher Family
In 1982, Sol LeWitt began to work with concrete blocks. As a common, readily available building material, it appealed to him as a modular component with which to build large-scale outdoor structures. Pyramid (Münster) was originally installed in a botanical garden for the Skulptur Projekte Münster, an important decennial exhibition in Germany. The artist first discussed this kind of form – horizontal steps of progressively decreasing width – in a 1966 article entitled “Ziggurats.” Different perspectives reveal the structure as a stepped pyramid or half-cube, suggesting the convergence of architecture and sculpture in LeWitt’s work.

Stars, 1989-90
Painted aluminum
Star (3 Pointed); 4'1" x 3'5" x 3'5"; LeWitt Collection, Chester, CT
Star (4 Pointed); 3'11" x 4'2" x 4'2"; LeWitt Collection, Chester, CT
Star (6 Pointed); 3'11" x 4'2" x 4'2"; LeWitt Collection, Chester, CT
Star (9 Pointed); 3'11" x 4' x 4'; LeWitt Collection, Chester, CT
Star (10 Pointed); 4'1" x 4' x 4'; Courtesy of The Pace Gallery, New York
Sol LeWitt employed the star as a geometric motif in prints, wall drawings, and here as a set of serial structures. Progressing from the 3-pointed to the 10-pointed star (five examples are included in this installation), each structure presents a cross section of a conical projection from the base. In this way, LeWitt worked through one of his primary sculptural concerns: how to render a two-dimensional shape in a three-dimensional form.

Complex Forms, 1990
Painted aluminum
Complex Form MH 7; 10' x 3' x 4'; LeWitt Collection, Chester, CT
Complex Form MH 17; 10' x 4' x 3'; LeWitt Collection, Chester, CT
Sol LeWitt became interested in making irregular structures in the mid-1980s. For the Complex Forms, the artist drafted a two-dimensional polygon and placed dots at various locations within it. As the form is projected into three dimensions, those interior points are elevated into space at different heights. The elevated points dictate the seams of the object’s multi-faceted surface. The Complex Forms introduce irregularity into LeWitt’s structural vocabulary – an idea that is further explored, for example, in Splotch 15, 2005, in this exhibition.

Tower (Columbus), 1990
Concrete block; 26'4" x 10'8" x 10'8"; The Ovitz Family Collection, Los Angeles
From 1990 onwards, Sol LeWitt conceived multiple variations on the tower to be constructed using concrete blocks. Tower (Columbus) presents a simple geometric progression through eight sections that systematically change in width and height. It begins with eight horizontal blocks at the base, decreasing in width as it rises to reach eight vertical blocks at the top. This elegant sculptural form evokes the use of incremental setbacks in classic Manhattan skyscrapers, highlighting the significance of architecture for LeWitt’s artistic practice.

One x Two Half Off, 1991
Painted aluminum; 10' x 10' x 7'8"; Private Collection, New York
Throughout his career, Sol LeWitt would often return to an earlier body of work with a new approach. The large modular cube, which he first made in 1969, is the basic element in this 1991 structure. One x Two Half Off belongs to a group of half-off pieces in which cubes connect midway along their sides instead of being aligned. The method allows for increased structural and visual complexity while also introducing an element of asymmetry.

Splotch 15, 2005
Acrylic on fiberglass; 12' x 8'4" x 6'8"; LeWitt Collection, Chester, CT
The organic form and bright color of Splotch 15 create a remarkable contrast to Sol LeWitt’s iconic white modular structures. Nevertheless, the form and color distribution were generated through a typically LeWittian system of projections from a two-dimensional base. First, the artist drew a highly irregular, eccentric outline as the footprint of the structure. He then devised one segmented plan within that outline for color and a second plan for height. Using three-dimensional computer modeling software, his Brooklyn fabricator constructed the work. The resulting exuberant form is the surprising result of the marriage of these two systems of color and height.

Open Geometric Structure, 2006
Painted wood; 6' x 5'8" x 4'9"; LeWitt Collection, Chester, CT

About the Artist

A leader in the movements of Minimalism and Conceptualism, Sol LeWitt’s work ranges from photography to works on paper to wall drawings, and includes 3-dimensional structures that explore different geometric forms such as pyramids and cubes. His work has been shown in hundreds of museums and galleries around the world, including his first retrospective, which was presented in 1978-79 by the Museum of Modern Art in New York, and current long-term exhibitions at MASS MoCA (Sol LeWitt: A Wall Drawing Retrospective) and Dia:Beacon (Sol LeWitt: Drawing Series…). His works are included in the collections of the Tate Modern, London; the Stedelijk van Abbemuseum, Amsterdam; Musée National d'Art Moderne, Centre Georges Pompidou, Paris; Australian National Gallery, Canberra, Australia; Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum, New York; Museum of Modern Art, New York; Dia:Beacon, New York; the National Gallery of Art, Washington, DC; and the Hirshhorn Museum and Sculpture Garden, Washington, DC. LeWitt died in New York City in 2007, at the age of 78.

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