On ViewPaula Cooper Gallery
Sol LeWitt: Wall Drawings & Structures
September 9–October 22, 2022
Let us go then, you and I, on an imaginary visit to the triumphant reopening of Paula Cooper’s magnificent space at 534 West 21st Street. A doubly triumphant event: the grand gallery at once returns home from its Babylonian exile to 26th Street and celebrates this return with an exhibition of Sol LeWitt’s wall drawings, first shown at Cooper’s SoHo gallery in 1968. The show opened on the ninth of September, which would have been LeWitt’s ninety-fourth birthday.
We expect to be enthralled, and we are. Especially you—and the first thing that comes into your mind seeing Wall Drawing #485 (1986) is that you’d like to own it (I forgot to tell you that you’d lately come into money). So, we look at each other and wonder: how do you own a wall painting first made thirty-six years ago? We consult the gallery, and they tell us that, yes, it is possible to have a version of this wall drawing, first by obtaining through the gallery a certificate, and then, through the LeWitt Family Foundation, obtaining both permission and access to an experienced team who know how to follow LeWitt’s detailed instructions governing color and the geometric relationship of shape to shape. We ask, would our version have to be on three walls, as it is here? No, the original was on one wall. Since you, dear friend, have recently acquired a space of factory dimensions, you are well-placed to possess a version of Wall Drawing #485.
What should make you ecstatic is the fact that you are becoming part of the recurring enactment of LeWitt’s concept of art: the translation of a concept born in his mind into, simultaneously, images and words. To confirm this, we cross the street to 521 West 21st Street, where we find The Location of a Rectangle (1974), an ink on paper drawing. The exquisite drawing shows a rectangle set at an angle drawn within another rectangle. Beneath the drawing there is a long text written by LeWitt that begins:
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 wall and the upper left corner to a point halfway between a point halfway between the center of the wall and the lower left corner …
And all that is simply about a rectangle, canted at an angle, drawn on a wall. Small wonder an experienced team is essential for carrying out LeWitt’s instructions.
LeWitt’s drawing and his accompanying, maddening description drain away context, contingency, and background. He seeks to give to the world, if not the thing-in-itself, at least the concept-in-itself. This audacious act sacrifices both the pre-Romantic imitation of known models and Romantic self-expression or originality, finding its most outstanding enactment in Complex Form #6 (1987/1988), located in Paula Cooper’s main gallery. If we take LeWitt’s rectangle drawing as a point of departure, then with this object we are definitely moving into another register of complexity. The simple quadrilateral figure now acquires materiality—baked enamel on aluminum—and occupies space in our world. Small wonder LeWitt was the greatest illustrator of Jorge Luis Borges’s stories, most especially “Tlön, Uqbar, Orbis Tertius,” where Borges imagines a world in accordance with LeWitt’s esthetic, where minds can generate objects on their own. The planes and angles of this magnificent “structure,” as LeWitt preferred to call his sculptural objects, create a new reality, one we can view from various perspectives unavailable to his wall drawings.
Varying the point of view makes us wonder if LeWitt escaped contingency altogether. Modular Wall Piece with Cube (1965/1977), a white-painted wood structure hanging on the wall at 521 West 21st Street, casts a shadow that is an integral part of the work. Change the lighting, and the shadow disappears. We must acknowledge that even LeWitt’s scrupulous realization of his concepts as images, objects, and words does not eliminate chance entirely. Even so, Paula Cooper’s magnificent show renders concrete a concept of art-making that changed the way we think about what art itself is.