Over 50 Sol LeWitt wall drawings, many of which already do or soon will belong to the Yale University Art Gallery, will be installed over the next two years in a 27,000-square-foot restored industrial building at the Massachusetts Museum of Contemporary Art in North Adams, Mass.
Set to open in the fall of 2008, the $8.6 million “Sol LeWitt: A Wall Drawing Retrospective” exhibition will remain on view until at least 2033. The project comes at a time when Yale is cementing its relationship with the influential 20th century conceptual artist, who recently decided to bequeath much of his work to the University.
“We’ll have the largest number of his wall drawings owned here of any museum in the world,” said Jock Reynolds, the director of the gallery.
Reynolds said MASS MoCA raised enough money to meet the full construction budget for the project Wednesday. Building construction and renovation will start in March and will likely take about nine months, MASS MoCA director Joseph Thompson said.
The two museums decided to collaborate because MASS MoCA’s 13-acre facility offered extensive space for LeWitt’s expansive drawings, which the gallery did not have at its disposal in New Haven.
“Sol and Jock had been talking about a substantial gift of Sol’s archives and drawings to Yale, which was a really wonderful opportunity on one hand, and yet it also proposed a nettlesome puzzle, which is because Sol’s wall drawings are so monumental, they’re very difficult to show in a significant number at any time,” Thompson said. “To exist they need to be played out on large walls, and this requires something that Yale didn’t have, which is a lot of space. … We have lots of space, lots of time, and we’re always looking for very interesting projects.”
The wall drawings, although designed by LeWitt, are not installed by the artist himself. Acquiring a LeWitt wall drawing entails receiving a certificate with specific instructions from the artist on the parameters of the design, and the process of the actual drawing itself is left to the owner.
“Sol does value the aesthetics of how the wall drawings are done,” said Jennifer Gross, the curator of modern and contemporary art at the gallery. “He’s very specific about the materials and the consistency in the rendering. He savors that they’re beautifully rendered — he just doesn’t have to do them himself.”
Offering a unique opportunity for Yale and other students to be involved in the creation of LeWitt’s conceptual art, an educational component of the project will invite students to intern at MASS MoCA over the summers of 2007 and 2008 to help execute the drawings.
“I absolutely think it would be something students would be interested in,” said Amanda Burnham GRD ’07, a painting student at the School of Art. “Sol LeWitt is an extremely important contemporary artist, and it’s a great opportunity. I think it’s great that they’re doing it, and I would personally be very interested.”
While LeWitt is still finalizing the details of his gifts to the University, Yale will undoubtedly have one of the premier collections of his work, Reynolds said. The MASS MoCA project has already had positive repercussions for the gallery, as a donor who had heard about the venture recently gave the University another LeWitt drawing.
“When you have certain great things by an artist, people usually want to keep adding strength on strength,” Reynolds said. “Over time, we will be eventually offered more of LeWitt’s work — not just wall drawings, but other examples of his work.”
Because of the large number of gifts, Reynolds said, a donor has funded a position for a drawings conservator who, among other responsibilities, will oversee LeWitt’s drawings.
As director of the Addison Gallery of American Art, Reynolds exhibited 45 LeWitt wall drawings in 1993 and developed a friendship with the artist.
Gross said the LeWitt collection will provide an opportunity for the gallery to reflect on its mission in the 21st century.
“The drawings are a unique manifestation of conceptual art, but now as this comes to us as a body of work, it will continue in its conceptual intention by the artist,” she said. “It will now challenge the boundaries of how a museum operates, because you’re not stewarding artifacts, you’re stewarding ideas. That’s going to provide some very fun discussions about art.”