When Sol LeWitt executed the first of his wall drawings in 1968, he inaugurated a new genre that he would explore for the next four decades. As with his sculptures and prints, the wall drawings are the result of a set of instructions carried out, in this case, directly on a chosen wall. Those instructions are normally brief and relatively simple—“ten thousand straight and ten thousand not straight lines”—and so their results vary in complexity and scale. The earliest of these works were drawn by LeWitt himself, but the series quickly evolved into a form of visual score, to be interpreted by a qualified assistant or group of assistants in a specific location, in perfect analogy with the tradition of musical composition and interpretation. In fact, LeWitt regarded his works as “musical scores,” in which the conceptual program that determines the composition, literally stated in the title, is always self-evident. “All decisions are made before- hand, so execution becomes a perfunctory affair,” he stated in his landmark credo, “Paragraphs on Conceptual Art” (1967) adding that “in conceptual art the idea or concept is the most important aspect of the work.”
Wall Drawing #1085: Drawing Series—Composite, Part I–IV, #1–24, A + B and Wall Drawing #1211: Drawing Series—Composite, Part I–IV, #1–24, A + B, installed in symmetrical galleries, are twin works conceived in 1968, but only materialized thirty-five years later at Dia:Beacon. In 2003, Wall Drawing #1085 was made, and in 2006 an identical gallery was prepared to accommodate Wall Drawing #1211, which substitutes four colors for #1085’s uniform graphite. For LeWitt, the square—the basic unit in these works—is among the “least emotive” of forms. Lines have been overlaid in every possible combination of the following basic directions: vertical, horizontal, diagonal from top left to bottom right, and diagonal from top right to bottom left. The three variations on Wall Drawing #411: Isometric figure with progressively darker gradations of gray ink wash on each plane (1984 and 2003) explore possible geometric shapes within a des- ignated ten-foot-square area of wall. In their imposing physical guise, LeWitt’s works reveal a compelling, luminous beauty that speaks as much to the senses as to the intellect. For even though the preset programs can be readily grasped, what is unexpected is their exhilarating presence. Experienced as a kind of aesthetic excess, this is the sensory equivalent of the works’ breathtaking logical consequence, a confrontation of what has been called “the purposelessness of purpose.”
In 2006 Dia invited the artist to select for the adjacent galleries from among the numerous drawings he conceived in the early 1970s. LeWitt conceived a sequence of twelve works, which were executed according to his preset instructions by two teams of assistants working on location. Despite LeWitt’s definition of the idea as the “machine that makes the work,” he often capitalized on circumstance, and the role of the assisting drafters could be as influential to the piece’s fabrication as the architectural quirks of its site. Sometimes the physi- cal particularities of the drafters, such as their height or arm length, are inevitably transferred into the work, determining its appearance. For example, in Wall Drawing #123: Copied lines (1972), each drafter is instructed to try copying the “not straight” vertical line a previous drafter has just traced on the wall. The realized drawings are always unique, and a single generative principle opens the work to infinite variations.