Unreal Nature

November 7, 2017

The Whole Chain of Events

Filed under: Uncategorized — unrealnature @ 5:45 am

… Reading the score “would not make the thing sound one bit better, but you’d know his mind, so you’d be getting a message from his mind to your mind … “

This is from Lucy Lippard’s contribution to the book Sol LeWitt edited by Alicia Legg (1978):

… He is far more concerned with what things are and how they come about than with how they look. His art is an objective activity, related to play in the most profound sense of fundamental creative discovery. The elusive “idea” that delivers his work from academic stagnation is transformation — the catalytic agent that makes it art even when the artist plays down its visual powers.

[ … ]

A rectangle whose left and right sides are two thirds as long as its top and bottom sides and whose left side is located where a line drawn from a point halfway between the midpoint of the top side of the square and the upper left corner to a point halfway between a point halfway between the center of the square and the lower left corner and the midpoint of the bottom side is crossed by two lines, the first of which is drawn from a point halfway between the midpoint of the left side and the upper left corner to a point halfway between the point halfway between the center of the square and the upper right corner and the midpoint of the right side, the second line from a point halfway between the point where the first line ends and a point halfway between the midpoint of the bottom side and the lower right corner to a point halfway between a point halfway between the center of the square and the lower left corner and the midpoint of the left side.

[ … ]

… The labels not only explain, but they contain the means by which a wall drawing multiplies and transforms itself. “If,” Michael Harvey has suggested, “the drawings are like the structural parts of speech, then the wall is the noun. It is the context which concretizes the specific. The same label could provide drawings. … So the ubiquity of contexts becomes another variable to the already enormous potential of a very fecund system.”

… He has compared his use of language to listening to music by Bach: “If you were really interested, and could read music, you would go to the score, were you would find out that he’s doing all sorts of things you can’t hear as sound … all these little systems of his own, where he’s working them out just like abstract possibilities.” Reading the score “would not make the thing sound one bit better, but you’d know his mind, so you’d be getting a message from his mind to your mind through the vehicle of his music.” LeWitt aligns himself as an artist with the composer of music rather than with the performer.

LeWitt’s work is rich in contradictory material, which operates at times as a mental and at times as a visual construct. He confronts concepts of order and disorder, open and closed, inside and outside, two- and three-dimensionality, finity and infinity, static (modular) and kinetic (serial).

… As artist Mel Bochner pointed out in 1966, in regard to LeWitt’s open modular cube: “Old art attempted to make the non-visible (energy, feelings) visual (marks). New art is attempting to make the non-visual (mathematics) visible (concrete).” Thus in 1965 LeWitt stripped away the mellow, lacquered surfaces of his structures and exposed the underlying grids and modules, first with a few black pieces, then with the white pieces that he has preferred ever since — in part because white is less obtrusive on white walls and in part because white avoids the “expressiveness” he attributes to the color black. Nevertheless, the negative, the shadow, like the spatial intervals between the bars, continued to be as important as the components themselves. “In intervals,” artist Dan Graham wrote, “LeWitt has structure freed from material content, structure that is no longer the structure of something.”

… From all sides there has been one salient and long-term misunderstanding of what he is doing and its political and aesthetic “radicality.” Due to his insistence on the nonvisual basis of his work, it has been assumed that LeWitt is not interested in the objects generated by his concepts, and that by continuing to make structures at all after the impermanent wall drawings and inexpensive books, he is guilty of recidivism, even moral default.

[line break added] Some of the blame for this situation must fall on those who, like myself, had exaggerated illusions about the ability of a “dematerialization of the art object” to subvert the commodity status and political uses to which successful American art has been subjected since the late 1950s. It has become obvious over the last few years that temporary, cheap, invisible or reproducible art has made little difference in the way art and artist are economically and ideologically exploited and that it can hardly be distinguished in that sense from Corten steel sculptures and twenty-foot canvases.

LeWitt has known this all along. He kindly but firmly disagreed with me that “dematerialization” was going to change anything and asserted that the Xerox text and documentary photograph were becoming “the new formalism,” that even the thinnest piece of paper was still an object and still commanded commercial status. Accordingly, he has never ascribed hierarchical value to any aspect of his own process (although the art market, of course, imposes its own monetary standards — by scale, medium, scarcity, etc. — on his work as on everyone else’s; no one has found a way out of that yet). “I’m very interested in the whole chain of events, from the time that you think of what you are doing to the time that it is finished,” he said in 1970.

[line break added] Those who see his wall drawings as an evolutionary rejection of the object (rather than as a new and challenging means by which he could explore the infinite growth inherent in his art, and make work that varies in varied spaces and situations) misread his intentions. Similarly, by considering the object the culminating product of the thinking, sketching, building process, one denies a major element of LeWitt’s conception, just as one does by considering the prints and books as “minor works” in comparison with the structures. In fact, they (the books in particular) are his most developed work so far — their “objectness,” their implicit portability, inexpensiveness and seriality being among their strongest points.

My most recent previous post from this book is here.

-Julie

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