Students Install LeWitt Print in Museum

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Sanders and Ellie Krause ’14 meticulously add another line to Wall Drawing #394.

By Ben Anderson

On Feb 8, the Middlebury College Museum of Art opened their new exhibit, Linear Thinking. The exhibit features pieces by artists such as Matisse and Picasso, and its focus on starkly contrasting shapes, repeating patterns and sharp edges demonstrates a wide variety of artwork from the 20th century. The center piece of this exhibit is Wall Drawing #394, by Sol LeWitt. LeWitt created an enormous collection of wall drawings, varying in complexity, shape and color. But perhaps most uniquely, LeWitt will never see the completed piece hanging in Middlebury’s gallery.

Raising questions about the distinction between draftsman and artist, LeWitt designed these wall drawings as a set of instructions that he intended for others to execute. Assistant Professor of History of Art and Architecture Edward Vazquez and his class, HARC0361, Minimalism — a reading seminar on the emergence of the minimalist movement in the New York art scene in the 60s and 70s — started the project in their class on Monday. They plan to work on the drawing throughout the week, with hopes of adding the final lines on this coming Monday afternoon. The class is working alongside Museum Designer Ken Pohlman and Museum Preparator Chris Murray. This is the second LeWitt piece that the Museum of Art has had in its collection; the last drawing went up in 1994.

“We were in touch with the Sol LeWitt estate because we’ve worked with them before: we already own a few other LeWitt prints,” said Chief Curator Emmie Donadio. “We wrote to them and they sent us 15 wall drawings to choose from and we chose the one that seemed feasible and best for our space and also best suited for the exhibition in which it would be included. Most of these 15 pieces were drawings that LeWitt had done especially for students.”

“His work is the embodiment of linear thinking, in a way,” she continued. “He plans a strategy and tells people how to do it and they do it. It was a good contrast to modern art in which the style or the handwriting of the artist identifies the artist. LeWitt’s strategy for making art is totally different from that, in fact it’s almost antithetical to that, the whole idea of individual talent.”

The students worked in groups of two, with two or three groups working on the wall at one time. The instructions were very straight-forward; start with a grid of 12-inch-by-12-inch squares that covers the entirety of the wall — 228 in the Museum. Then, in each square draw one of a few lines designated by the artist.

“LeWitt said he didn’t need to necessarily be involved in the full installation of his work, and so there is a plan he put together and we are going to execute that plan,” Vazquez said. “There is a potential for variation internal to it, but when we are done, we as a collective — as a class — will have created a Sol LeWitt work as per his instructions.”

There are four orientations possible — horizontal through the center, vertical through the center and diagonal in either direction — and three different types of lines — straight and solid, dashed and freehand.

“There’s a family resemblance between different iterations of the same LeWitt piece,” Vazquez continued. “If you knew this work, you’d be able to recognize variations of it but they are not meant to be carbon copies. There is a bit of free will and agency still left up to the drawer of each piece.”

The only other direction was an emphasis on the element of randomness. LeWitt intended for the piece to take on no recognizable geometric form, and while it is up to the individual artists where to place each line, they must be careful to not give the piece the appearance of a coherent form or shape.

“When drawing a line, it is important to think about what your line will do in relation to the others on the wall,” said Pohlman as the students began working.

It was particularly powerful watching the drawing go up in the middle of the exhibit, with this new piece of art being created before our eyes while surrounded by these already-created classics of the art world. The process was slow, but each new line provided stark contrast against the black wall and the design of the piece warped and blossomed with each new addition

“There are decisions that the draftsman makes,” LeWitt said in Art Now in 1971. “Each individual, being unique, if given the same instructions would understand them differently and would carry them out differently.”

Wall Drawing #394 and the rest of the Linear Thinking exhibit will be up in the Museum of Art through April 21.