When the Walker Art Center
opened its new Edward Larrabee Barnesdesigned building in 1971, it ushered in exciting new possibilities for exhibiting and collecting the art of its time. The Barnes building, with its sweeping, rectangular galleries and white terrazzo floors, was one of the first U.S. museums designed to showcase sculpture and other works that abandoned the pedestal to be shown directly on the floor, resulting in a more direct relationship between viewer and object. Many of these works were made by artists associated with American Minimalism and Conceptualism, two areas in which the Walker was steadily building its collection.
As a major figure in both movements, Sol LeWitt (19282007) was one of the first artists whose work graced the Barnes building. LeWitt and the Walker enjoyed a relationship that spanned more than 35 years. It began with the museums purchase of sculptures (LeWitt called them structures) in the mid-1960s and includes approximately 200 pieces donated by the artist during his lifetime. His work is featured prominently in the Minneapolis Sculpture Garden, and his enduring wall drawings have graced the Walkers public spaces since the early 1980s.
The exhibition Sol LeWitt: 2D+3D, on view November 18, 2010 (from 59 pm)April 24, 2011, presents for the first time the full range of the Walkers LeWitt holdings, highlighting the artists three-dimensional structures, wall drawings, models, unique works on paper, prints, and artists books.
Carefully conceived geometric arrangements were the basis for LeWitts earliest work. In 1966, he wrote: The most interesting characteristic of the cube is that it is relatively uninteresting. Compared to any other three-dimensional form, the cube lacks any aggressive force, implies no motion, and is least emotive. Therefore, it is the best form to use as a basic unit for any more elaborate function, the grammatical device from which the work may proceed. Often stacked in grids and columns, the cube became an essential element in many of the artists structures. On view will be a wide range of LeWitts meditations on the cube, from the 1966 painted metal structure Cubic Modular Piece No. 2 (L-Shaped Modular Piece) to the monumental Three x Four x Three, an enamel on aluminum piece from 1984 that stands more than 14 feet high.
Though conceptually simple, these structures offer different encounters depending on ones vantage point: cubes overlap, depth perception is challenged, and the arrangements often become visually and physically immersive experiences. LeWitts work in this mode soon evolved into a concern with other primary shapes, with lines and various mechanisms for combining them, and with the systematic use of color, from subdued hues to vibrant gestures. Over the course of his long relationship with the Walker, LeWitt generously gave the museum many works on paper that together track the diversity of his visual thinking. From delicate screenprints from the early 1970s that investigate the precision of fine line to bold, gestural, and riotously colorful gouache drawings of the late 1990s, these works amplify his endeavors in other media, providing an important link between the structures and wall drawings.
In 1967, Artforum magazine commissioned LeWitts now-legendary statement on his work, Paragraphs on Conceptual Art, in which he coined the term for a movement that would tip the scales from an orientation toward objects to an idea-based art. He proposed that when an artist uses a conceptual form of art, it means that all of the planning and decisions are made beforehand and the execution is a perfunctory affair. The idea becomes the machine that makes the art. His radical pronouncement defined a new mindset and way of working that continue to be profoundly relevant to a current generation of artists.
The following year, LeWitt drew a combination of vertical, horizontal, and diagonal lines directly onto a wall at New Yorks Paula Cooper Gallery and called it Wall Drawing #1. Reasoning that it seemed more natural to work directly on walls than to make a construction, he began conceiving more wall drawings, works that took the form of instructions (written, spoken, and/or drawn) executed by assistants or other individuals in any location. These would become a major part of LeWitts artistic production until his death, and the Walker owns three of them, two of which are included in the exhibition. Wall Drawing No. 224, a 1973 pencil and crayon piece given to the museum by the artist in 1996, will be exhibited for the first time. Along with more than 100 other works on view, it presents an artist passionately committed to his carefully defined practice, and to the Walker.