Sol LeWitt’s minimal and conceptual approach took shape in a work based on serial variations, in contrast to the prevailing expressive intentionality of the Abstract Expressionist period. The artist defined his work on the basis of an indeterminate space, placing greater emphasis on the idea than the execution.
The work of art thus ceased to be an object [...] becoming instead a conceptual product.
The work of art thus ceased to be an object displayed on a pedestal or enclosed within a frame, becoming instead a conceptual product which did not require the artist’s involvement in the installation.
A body of work, therefore, also characterised by certain physical and spatial qualities integrated into the exhibition space, enabling the viewer’s active contemplation linked to spatial experimentation.
A work based on serial variations, in contrast to the prevailing expressive intentionality of the Abstract Expressionist period
Wall Drawing #47 , which bears the subtitle: “A wall divided vertically into fifteen equal parts, each with a different line direction, and all combinations” is an emblematic work by Sol Lewitt since it is one of his first wall drawings and one of the most daring in terms of concept and size.
Is an emblematic work by Sol Lewitt since it is one of his first wall drawings and one of the most daring in terms of concept and size
The work is based on the systematic use of lines in four directions: vertical, horizontal, diagonal right and diagonal left, allowing huge horizontal scope as it is structured in 15 vertical sequences, offering one, two, three or four line directions.
The Wall Drawing concept was the best medium for giving expression to LeWitt’s radical ideas, and these works would become the most characteristic in his output.
In a 1970 text under the same name, Wall Drawings, the artist explained that his approach consisted of making a work “as two-dimensional as possible”, in accordance with his minimalist, and therefore reductionist thinking.
LeWitt felt the most natural way to work was directly on the wall, rather than on a “construction” which would later be hung on the wall.
This enabled him to create works with a minimum of materials, allowing the drawing to become an intrinsic part of the architecture of the gallery and causing the viewer to interact spatially given that they would only make sense of the work through experiencing the actual exhibition space.
The structure of the work represents the following numerical sequence, with 1 being vertical, 2 horizontal, 3 ascending diagonally and 4 descending diagonally: 1/2/3/4/1-2/1-3/1-4/2-3/2-4/3-4/1-2-3/1-2-4/1-3-4/2-3-4/1-2-3-4.
In each of the first four sections, four basic directions of lines are drawn; after the fifth section, they are combined in two directions, three from the eleventh and ending in the last section combining four directions.
Wall Drawings also materialised out of the formalisation and intellectualisation of graffiti
The genesis of this work dates back to a project that got under way in 1968 for a book of drawings arranged in a series according to the logic of the combination of four linear directions, which he also used in the first four-sided Wall Drawing installed in the Paula Cooper Gallery in New York between 23 and 31 October of the same year, as part of a collective exhibition organised by Lucy Lippard and the minimalist painter Robert Huot in support of protestors against the Vietnam War.
For the first time, non-objective work was shown for political ends
For the first time, non-objective work was shown for political ends, which for Lippard meant establishing a “new base for the concept of politics and art”.
Therefore, it is possible to correlate the renouncement of the concept of authorship with the rejection of a mercantilist approach to the artwork in Sol LeWitt’s first Wall Drawings, with the context of art and politics giving meaning to the idea that the Wall Drawings also materialised out of the formalisation and intellectualisation of graffiti.
José Luis Castillejo (Seville, 1930 – Houston, 2014) was a member of the Zaj group, together with Juan Hidalgo and Walter Marchetti, between 1966 and 1969, and an experimental writer, art critic and visual poet. A diplomat by profession, his relationship with American art began from 1959 onwards with his first post in Washington. At the time Sol LeWitt wrote him this letter, Castillejo was working on his first experimental writings, with books such as La política (1968), and a key work in Spanish Conceptualism The book of i’s (1969).
The letter, dated January 1969, signals a period in which both were interested in exploring the possibilities of the book as a broad system of artistic dissemination. LeWitt considered this medium to be on a par with the wall or paper to reflect his ideas on serial systems, and in the letter he explained his drawing method using parallel lines in four basic, absolute directions – vertical, horizontal and two 45° diagonal directions – as well as a system of permutations represented by the numbers 1, 2, 3, 4, which he repeated in the first Wall Drawings. In point of fact, at the end of the text LeWitt mentions his aim of using the wall as a medium for making art that is not an object.
Secondly, there is a copy of the first 1980 edition of his artist’s book Autobiographie, comprising photographs of objects from his house and study arranged in a format of nine squares per page. This expressed, via a series of images, the concept underlying his ideas and own life in autobiographical form. In these photographs the inspiration drawn from E. Muybridge’s sequential images was key and was transferred by LeWitt to his whole body of work to express a temporal concept and narrativity through seriation.
The first installation of Wall Drawing #47 was drawn in June 1970 by Kazuko Miyamoto, at the Philippe-Guy Wood Residence in Vasenaz, Geneva.
The Museo Reina Sofía acquired the piece in 2009. The first installation was completed between 12 October and 15 November 2011, with Chip Allen and Roland Lusk as draughtspersons, under the supervision of John Hogan, installation director for the Sol LeWitt Studio.
The current installation
The current installation is on a wall 5 metres high and 15.8 metres wide. The draughtspersons are Roland Lusk and Andrew Colbert, again under the direction of John Hogan. The work was carried out between 3 November and 10 December 2014, over a total of thirty 8-hour days, with the participation of six assistants.
The drawing was done in H6 pencil on a wall specifically prepared to create a flat surface that does not alter the lines which make up the piece. Wall Drawing #47 requires meticulous work to ensure uniform pressure of the pencil on the support. It is finished with a water-based varnish applied by a specialist from the Sol LeWitt Studio and an assistant, with the work requiring two full 8-hour days.
Pioneer of Conceptual Art
Sol LeWitt’s connection to the birth of Conceptual Art was crucial and in December of 1966 he participated in what was considered its first exhibition, entitled Working Drawings and Other Visible Things On Paper Not Necessarily Meant to be Viewed as Works of Art , organised by Mel Bochner in the New School of Visual Arts. The show exclusively displayed sketches, drawings and notes on the work of the artists, all arranged on plinths. The following year, in 1967, LeWitt published the article “Paragraphs on Conceptual Art”, in Arforum , a key text in Conceptual Art explaining how this type of art was not theoretical and did not illustrate theories, but instead was intuitive and involved in every type of mental process.
In these key years, until 1969, his work in the field of drawing would lead him to undertake major developments from a spatial point of view. The piece Wall Drawing #47, designed for the Dwan Gallery in New York in 1969 and executed in June 1970, is one of the most emblematic examples. For LeWitt drawing represented a basic structural unit in all art, where the line was also the most basic unit of drawing. This work perfectly represented the artist’s thinking in terms of reductionism and permutation. Over the course of these years, LeWitt would establish a system of work for the Wall Drawings along with his assistants, and even conceived the method of joining various graphite bars to attain the same distance between lines, which can be noted in the execution of the work.
Text by Carmen Fernández Aparicio, Chief Curator of Sculpture at the Museo Reina Sofía
Sol LeWitt studied at Syracuse University, graduating in 1949. After a spell in the army, and being stationed in Korea and Japan, he settled in New York in 1953, where he studied at the present-day School of Visual Arts. Drawn to the serial and sequential concept in the photographic work of Eadweard Muybridge, from the mid 1960s LeWitt worked on painting and sculpting three-dimensional structures under the concept of a serial project. Eventually he moved on to executing his drawing on walls – Wall Drawings – initially setting out from a system of parallel lines in four basic directions. He also wrote pieces that were key to the definition of Conceptual Art, for instance “Paragraphs on Conceptual Art”, published in Artforum, (Vol. 5, No. 10, June 1967), “Sentences on Conceptual Art”, published in Art-Language (Vol. 1, No. 1, May 1969) and “Wall Drawings”, published in Arts Magazine (Vol. 44, No. 6, February 1970). In 1978 the Museum of Modern Art in New York held his first retrospective, after which he travelled to Italy, where the sight of the frescoes by Italian masters from the Trecento and the Quattrocento lead him to introduce washes of colour and Indian inks in his work from the 1980s onwards.
[...] I will refer to the kind of art in which I am involved as conceptual art. In conceptual art the idea or concept is the most important aspect of the work . When an artist uses a conceptual form of art, it means that all of the planning and decisions are made beforehand and the execution is a perfunctory affair. The idea becomes a machine that makes the art. This kind of art is not theoretical or illustrative of theories; it is intuitive, it is involved with all types of mental processes and it is purposeless. It is usually free from the dependence on the skill of the artist as a craftsman. It is the objective of the artist who is concerned with conceptual art to make his work mentally interesting to the spectator, and therefore usually he would want it to become emotionally dry.
[…] Art that is meant for the sensation to the eye primarily would be called perceptual rather than conceptual. This would include most optical, kinetic, light and color art.
Since the functions of conception and perception are contradictory (one pre-, the other post-fact) the artist would mitigate his idea by applying subjective judgment to it.
[...] To work with a plan that is pre-set is one way of avoiding subjectivity. It also obviates the necessity of designing each work in turn. The plan would design the work. Some plans would require million of variations, and some a limited number, but both are finite.
[...] When an artist uses a multiple modular method he usually chooses a simple and readily available form. The form itself is of very limited importance; it becomes the grammar for the total work. In fact it is best that the basic unit be deliberately uninteresting so that it may more easily become an intrinsic part of the entire work. Using complex basic forms only disrupts the unity of the whole. Using a simple form repeatedly narrows the field of the work and concentrates the intensity to the arrangement of the form. This arrangement becomes the end while the form becomes the means.
«Paragraphs on Conceptual Art», published in Artforum 5, nº 10, June 1967, pp-79-83
[...] If the artist carries through his idea and makes it into visible form, then all the steps in the process are of importance. The ideas itself, even if not made visual is as much a work of art as any finished product. All intervening steps –scribbles, sketches, drawings, failed work, models, studies, thoughts, conversations- are of interest. Those that show the thought process of the artist are sometimes more interesting than the final product.
[...] Determining what size a piece should be is difficult. If an idea requires three dimensions then it would seem any size would do. […] I think the piece must be large enough to give the viewer whatever information he needs to understand the work and place in such a way that will facilitate this understanding.
[...] New materials are one of the great afflictions of contemporary art. Some artist confuse new materials with now ideas […] The danger is, I think, in making the physicality of the materials so important that it becomes the idea of the work (another kind of expressionism).
[...] These paragraphs are not intended as categorical imperatives but the ideas stated are as close as possible to my thinking at this time . These ideas are the result of my work as an artist and are subject to change as my experience changes. I have tried to state then with as much clarity as possible. If the statements I make are unclear it may mean the thinking is unclear. [...] Conceptual art is good only when the idea is good.