Jessica Smolinski

Sol LeWitt’s art will make you feel magnificently small. From March 2 to July 8, 2018, LeWitt’s bold shapes will be suspended on the fourth floor of the Yale University Art Gallery. His shapes will invite you; they will encourage you to create your own.

LeWitt, a master conceptual and minimalist artist, first conceived of his famous wall drawings in 1968. From then until his death in 2007, LeWitt created 1,300 joyful and celebratory wall paintings. LeWitt’s art, built from “constellations of fine graphite lines,” handwritten text, “bold geometric patterns in colorful ink wash/crayon,” and three-dimensional sculpture work embodies the “idea that the conception of an artwork can be separated from its execution,” according to the exhibition’s wall label. LeWitt wrote instructions so others could reproduce his work independently. Everyone can adopt his creations.

The special exhibition currently featured at the YUAG, “Sol LeWitt, Drawings Expanding a Legacy,” shows seven wall drawings donated this year by the artist’s estate. Yale holds claim to the largest collection in the world of his signature artwork.

On one back wall, LeWitt’s triptych of shapes radiates a sense of colossal space. The wall presents a yellow circle, a blue square and a red triangle. Horizontal pinstripes cross the shape interiors, while vertical lines cross the exterior space. Because each wall section contains elements of surrounding primary colors, the distinct spaces all appear to contain each other. The lines that separate the enormous, inviting shapes feel small and insignificant in comparison to the spaces they delineate. Perhaps the shapes encourage the viewer because they remind us of a child’s toy. The viewer feels welcomed into the entire space, rather than herded into a particular shape.

On an adjacent wall, a rich red covers the entire wall. A dashed white runs from the midpoint of the left side nearly to the right side of the wall. A squiggly yellow line and a diagonal line cross each other. We see evidence of the artist’s hand explicitly printed on his own work. Capitalized graphite instructions run along with his lines:

“A WHITE BROKEN LINE IS DRAWN FROM A POINT EQUIDISTANT TO THE START OF THE NOT STRAIGHT YELLOW LINE THE MIDPOINT OF THE BLUE STRAIGHT LINE AND A POINT HALFWAY BETWEEN THE MIDPOINT OF THE RIGHT SIDE AND THE UPPER RIGHT CORNER TO THE MIDPOINT OF THE LEFT SIDE”

His instructions remind me of convoluted, irreproducible stage directions. Faint diagonal pencil lines dissect the space into fragmented triangles.

On another adjacent wall, a shape of LeWitt’s own creation sprawls across feathery blue space. The shape, a prism containing four smaller, oddly shaped triangles, add red, green, light blue and pumpkin colors to the wall. All triangles point to a single site of tension in the piece at which all the colors converge. Although the prism creates a sense of dimension, when I focus on one individual shape, all the shapes freeze and resemble stickers rather than dimensional spaces.

On one wall, a colossal black rhombus outlined by thick white lines at once fixates as a meaningless shape and figuratively represents what feels like a building teetering to the ground.

A back wall features a rainbow staircase, removed from any sort of ceiling or ground and lacking a clear destination.

In the adjacent hallway, Joel Shapiro suspends two chunky red shapes in space by the strength of a few wires. Shapiro decided to hang this piece, Flush (dated 2016 and made of wood and casein), in this space in response to the LeWitt show. Joel Shapiro’s work is also celebrated on the fourth floor of the museum in the Kahn building in an exhibition entitled Joel Shapiro: Plaster, Paper, Wood, and Wire. As you walk towards, around, and away from the shapes, they shrink and grow before your eyes.

On another wall, LeWitt’s quadrants of squiggly lines divide the white wall behind them. The lines evoke motion and remind me of guitar strings in the midst of making music. The quadrants feature straight lines, but the motion of other lines overwhelms them and they fade into the infrastructure. I love this piece in particular because it reminds me of the strengths and weaknesses of chords in motion.

This exhibition, “Sol LeWitt, Drawings Expanding a Legacy,” celebrates the new Sol LeWitt Wall Drawing Study Center at Yale’s West Campus. Providing a home to the archive of his work, the Center will become an international nexus for research.

Climb up to the fourth floor of the YUAG and feel welcomed into LeWitt’s enormous, whimsical world.

Annie Nields | annie.nields@yale.edu