Monday, December 04, 2006

MMoCA's exhibit of the significant art of Sol LeWitt



So sue me, Google -- they wouldn't let me take pictures at the Madison Museum of Contemporary Art's new exhibit of works both by Sol LeWitt and from his collection ("LeWitt x 2") -- so I used some of yours. I couldn't find a posting connected with the exhibit with a jpeg big enough to be worth displaying online. So here's a screen capture of part of the first page of a Google Image Search for "Sol LeWitt." Click on the link or do your own search and you'll find over 5,000 more.

I might also note parenthetically that this is one more way technology is changing the way we perceive the world -- the magical miniature, gridlike montage of an artist's work produced by Google Image Search is an amazing starting point, a nifty way to get an instant overview of an artist's career at a glance, in the same way that typing in the name of a city will bring up a kaleidoscopic jumble of images portraying buildings, people and maps that orient you at the same time they give you an instantaneous feel for the spirit of a place. In some ways it's almost better than going to a gallery or museum to see the work in person, sort of like savoring art on the run.

At least it was for me in this particular case. The Google search was an instant refresher course in the range of LeWitt's work, and it made me eager to see the show. But by the time I got there over the weekend, I found it all rather anticlimactic, and I didn't stay long. I was reminded of how I had always found LeWitt's work a bit too dry and cerebral in a sterile sort of way for my taste. Perhaps I'm not alone. On a Sunday afternoon an hour before closing, there was only one other couple in the cavernous main galleries -- a man looking on in indulgent boredom, while his significant other asked earnestly significant questions of the guard about why this was significant art, and he tried to reply with an appropriately significant sounding explanation of its significance.

My favorite local review of the show(s) was by Jennifer A. Smith in Isthmus. She wrote about LeWitt with insight and sensitivity and without condescending to her readers.
Now 78, LeWitt is associated with the post-World War II art movements of minimalism and conceptualism. But don’t let those dry-sounding terms scare you off. The paradox of LeWitt’s art is that it can be intellectually rigorous yet easily readable, with its familiar geometric forms. The austere and the sensual intermingle in his work.

“Structure and Line” spans over 40 years of LeWitt’s career, from the mid-1960s to the present. In his younger days, LeWitt and his friends shrugged off the freewheeling approach of Abstract Expressionism for something they hoped would be more stripped down and elemental. The earliest work on view is a 1965 wall-mounted sculpture — or “structure” in LeWitt’s preferred parlance — with the typically prosaic title “Modular Wall Piece With Cube.” It’s an open, lattice-like structure, and the open cube form recurs throughout LeWitt’s work.

Yet as the years have progressed, LeWitt has become more open to color and irregular lines. As visitors first step into the galleries, the 1965 sculpture faces off with a 2006 drawing created just for MMoCA, one of the artist’s famed “wall drawings,” which is exactly what it sounds like — the drawing is created directly on the surface of the gallery wall.
For the Capital Times, Kevin Lynch was, well, Kevin Lynch.
He's a bit of an artistic groundhog shrinking from the long shadow of high regard artists hold for him. Like Herman Melville's notoriously reticent legal copyist "Bartleby the Scrivener," LeWitt would "prefer not to" engage in actions he doesn't see as necessary: spotlighting himself. As with Bartleby, this amounts to a politely radical political statement. The kind our times needs desperately.
I don't know about Kevin. He's got a Melville things going, what can I say ? This time it's Bartleby, last time it was Moby Dick.
Regardless, the museum's iconic entrance is now an unforgettable experience of downtown Madison. One can imagine an Ahab-like incantation shouted from the stair top.
I looked for Bartleby throughout the LeWitt exhibit but couldn't find him. Perhaps he was scared away by Ahab's incantations from the nearby stair top. Need I say more? I would prefer not to.

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