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by Sherry Wong
|The Sol LeWitt retrospective finally hit New York after opening at the San Francisco MOMA and drawing rave reviews at the Chicago MCA. At the same time, LeWitt unveiled a show of colorful new wall paintings and his new "stalagmite" sculpture at PaceWildenstein uptown, and a pair of giant cinder-block sculptures at Paula Cooper in Chelsea. It's beginning to look like a LeWitt winter.
Cube overkill didn't stop art-world movers and shakers packing the Whitney Museum for last week's gala opening, eager to sample some tuna tartare and, oh yes, look at over 200 examples of LeWitt's work. Over almost 40 years, LeWitt's trademark system -- simple instructions issued to assistants -- has taken his work from hard-core Minimalist wall drawings and cube constructions to giant Color Field-style murals, Expressionist cinder-block architecture and even Op Art psychedelia. Wow.
At the Whitney, upon stepping off the elevator on the fourth floor, the crowd was confronted by a swirl of the most intense purple and red in front of the elevators. It is a LeWitt of recent, trippy vintage -- Wall Drawing #937 nicknamed Loopy Doopy (Purple and Red), 2000, a 49-foot-long undulating and wavering swath of eye candy.
The show is densely packed into the maze of galleries, which themselves seem a bit LeWitt-ized into cubicles designed to provide walls to paint on. But it looks good -- this despite testimony by art-world transcontinentals that the show had so much more space out at the boring San Francisco MOMA.
Sol's romance with simplicity is crystal clear in his wall drawings from the 1970s, in which complete walls are covered with faint and unobtrusive pencil lines. LeWitt's instructions for Wall Drawing # 86 (1971) called for "Ten thousand lines about 10 inches long, covering the wall evenly." The fragments of lines juxtapose the obsessive and mathematical quality of graph paper with the transience and frailty of a spider web.
The museum has also dedicated a certain amount of space to LeWitt's endless series of "incomplete open cubes" -- the white, geometric, skeletal structures that, along with Carl Andre's square metal plates and Donald Judd's boxes, did so much to define the mechanical Zen that is Minimalist sculpture.
But LeWitt's true renaissance -- his widening popularity -- derives from the colorful floor-to-ceiling wall paintings that represent the second half of his career, which began in the '80s. Jewel-toned 3-D shapes -- trapezoids, step-shapes, cubes -- joust with spectrum-hued rainbows and jazzy color stripes. Look out, Frank Stella, Kenneth Noland and Daniel Buren! There's also LeWitt's "star series," his Pop-est image of all, and one that the Whitney has made into something of an icon of the retrospective, the Five-pointed Star with Bands of Color (1991).
Outside, in the museum's wimpy subterranean "sculpture court," sits a pair of cinderblock pyramids that, of course, echo the inverted pyramidal design of Marcel Breuer's museum.
Downtown, in Paula Cooper's soaring gallery space, is a newer, even more stunning hexagonal cinderblock structure titled, simply, Six Walls (2000). LeWitt's walls measure 12 feet high and 16 feet long -- but don't intersect at their six corners sides, instead offering an impassable slot about 12 inches wide that provides a minimal view into the empty center space. If you have some extra room, maybe you'll want to buy the 2,592-block structure. It's $200,000. Cooper also has a group of drawings for the work, and a smaller, pyramidal cinderblock sculpture.
Up at Pace Wildenstein is a kind of stalagmite structure that reminds me of a rainbow ice-pop, along with a 52-foot-long Wall Drawing #958 (Splat) in matching colors. It's dated December 2000 -- now, that's "new work"! Nearby are several almost-as-new works on paper, similar in design, of tropical two-toned curves.
Upstairs, Pace presents five fabulous prints. Most striking is Bands of Equal Width and Color (2000), a set of eight linocut prints with variations on the rainbow Stella-like line theme. Bright, cheerful, and simple, they offer a perfect encapsulation of what the art world is hungry for. Just call it Sol food.
"Sol LeWitt: A Retrospective," Dec. 6, 2000-Feb. 25, 2001, at the Whitney Museum of American Art, 945 Madison Ave., New York, N.Y. 10021.
Sol LeWitt, Dec. 8, 2000-Jan. 13, 2001, at Paula Cooper, 534 West 21st Street, New York, N.Y. 10011.
Sol LeWitt, "New Work: Structure, Wall Drawings & Gouaches," Dec. 2, 2000-Jan. 6, 2001, at PaceWildenstein, 32 East 57th Street, New York, N.Y. 10022.
SHERRY WONG is editorial assistant at Artnet Magazine.