Drawing Series-Composite, Part 1–IV, #1–24 A + B, Wall Drawing #1085, is a
landmark in Sol LeWitt’s oeuvre: conceived in 1969 but first realized as a wall drawing
only in 2003, at Dia:Beacon, it heralds a remarkable body of wall works generated
over the last thirty-five years. As such, the expansive work, filling two large symmetrical
galleries, provides a point of departure for this in-depth presentation of some fourteen
wall drawings devised during the period 1969—75. Given its axiomatic status, its
extraordinary beauty and quiet authority, there was every incentive for Dia to realize
its pair, Wall Drawing #1211, which substitutes four colors—black, red, blue, and
yellow—for #1085’s graphite. Galleries identical in scale to those housing the first
version were therefore prepared in spring 2006 to accommodate its partner.1
To complement this monumental presentation of both versions of Drawing Series, Dia invited the artist to select for the adjacent galleries from among the numerous drawings he conceived shortly after—that is, in the early 1970s. LeWitt has thus chosen, sequenced, and sited twelve works, which have been executed according to his preset instructions by two teams of assistants working on location from May through late August 2006. The result is an extraordinary confluence of works, variously bold and subtle, improvised and predetermined, clear and cryptic, reductive and expansive. For all their diversity and complexity, they are nonetheless informed by a singular aesthetic that LeWitt formulated in the late sixties in two manifestoes: Paragraphs on Conceptual Art (1967) and Sentences on Conceptual Art (1969). Key among the precepts through which he parsed his pioneering notion of Conceptualism are the maxims: “In conceptual art the idea or concept is the most important aspect of the work” and “All decisions are made beforehand, so execution becomes a perfunctory affair.” Among other guiding tenets and self-imposed constraints is the rejection of illusion both in the drawing and in the surface plane of the wall, which remain resolutely flat. The arbitrary, the expressive, and the subjective are also eschewed along with all traces of the maker’s hand and personal taste: light-toned and evenly applied, the lines create grids, patterns, and diagrams of varying tonality that nonetheless preserves the integrity of the picture plane. The colors used are only those that are basic to printing— red, blue, yellow, and black. Moreover, since the realized drawings are always unique, a work may exist in more than one place at any one time. And, since the work is the idea—that is, the set of instructions (which take the form of a certificate and an accompanying diagram, held by the owner who purchases the “use of the idea”)— then the life of a drawing when executed may, and almost always will be, contingent and temporary.
Stringent and rigorous rather than rigid and dogmatic, LeWitt’s work is no more in thrall to mathematical calibration than to systems per se: on those occasions when he does exhaustively pursue seriality and permutation, as in the two variants of Drawing Series, the result is imbued with a degree of excess such that the limpid cogency and coherence is almost undermined by a gossamerlike luminosity. Given that, for him, “artists are mystics,” and given too his conviction that “irrational thoughts should be followed absolutely and logically,” many works fall outside the parameters of what is usually expected of Conceptualism, that is, a rational, logical exegesis. For example, he often capitalizes on circumstance—on the quirks of a particular architectural situation, on the skills and inventiveness of the assistants executing the drawing, or on the different effects produced by substituting one medium or material for another: crayon in place of pencil, color instead of graphite, or a grey or black surface in lieu of the more usual white wall. Moreover, most of his drawings can never be exactly replicated; for each instantiation, each iteration, is a new interpretation, as is a new performance of a musical score. In #123, for example, differences in lengths of the individual lines reflect different heights and hence different reaches among the ten or so draftspersons involved in its execution, each of whom contributed at least one line; aptitude, physical stamina, and mental concentration also impact upon the final effect. Sometimes the instructions that determine a wall drawing are quite strict, sometimes they are provisional, offering a certain leeway in interpretation. If those that seem elaborate often yield disarmingly simple solutions, conversely, others based on abbreviated or succinct verbal or graphic instructions may produce unexpectedly complex forms or a modular progression whose hallmark is a prolix, proliferating redundancy.
Almost all the elements of LeWitt’s playfully inventive repertoire from these years are evident in this ensemble of works: lines in all four directions (vertical, horizontal, left and right diagonal), straight and not straight, touching and not touching, solid and broken, gridded and arced, as well as those most basic of geometric figures, the circle, square, and triangle. Whether dry or droll, the spirit—the wit—of this work is undeniable, for as the artist once sagely cautioned: “One should be intelligent enough to know when not to be too intellectual.”2
1. In contrast to works made after 1969, whose measurements are intimately and directly linked to the specifics—the coordinates, contours, and dimensions—of the walls they are drawn on, this work floats freely: its dimensions are fixed and predetermined, and it is not tethered to the venue; rather it simply requires a wall of a certain minimal size.
2. Sol LeWitt, interview by Andrew Wilson, Artmonthly 3, no. 164 (March 1993), p. 6.