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Who: Sol LeWitt
What: Circle with Towers
Where: Speedway; outside the Gates Dell Complex
Why: Circle with Towers is a conceptual work of art by Sol LeWitt. Although LeWitt developed the idea and plans for the work, it was actually constructed by others, based on a set of instructions supplied by the artist. Conceptual art focuses on the idea behind an artwork, rather than the object itself. Much like classical music, which is written by composers but performed by others, conceptual art champions an artist’s idea as much as the object.
Located outside the Gates Dell Complex, Circle with Towers features a low circular wall of eight rectangular towers made of pale gray concrete blocks. The structure possesses a discernible logic and rhythm: the concrete towers are four blocks wide while the low walls between them are eight blocks wide—a perfect 1:2 ratio. Computer coding functions similarly, utilizing binaries and programmatic instructions, making this work a perfect complement to the Gates Dell Complex.
Find the label for Circle with Towers. Why might LeWitt want all of the people who constructed the work to be listed as co-artists? Does the fact the sculpture was not fabricated by the artist change your response to it?
Hi, I’m Veronica Roberts. I’m a curator and I served as director of research for the Sol LeWitt Wall Drawing Catalogue Raisonne. I worked closely with LeWitt at the Whitney Museum in the late 90s, so forgive me if I call him Sol. I’m here to talk about two works in the Landmarks collection at UT. The concrete block structure Circle with Towers outside the GDC building and Wall Drawing #520 that’s installed inside the building on three walls.
Sol was a pioneer of conceptual and minimal art and is most closely associated with conceptual art of the 1960s and 70s. He was born in Hartford, Connecticut in 1928 and received his bachelor of fine arts from Syracuse University in ’49. He spent most of his early career in New York. He moved there in the early 50s after serving in the Korean War.
In the mid 60s he had his first show at Daniels Gallery in New York and although he’s now best known for the wall drawings that he created, his very first show at the Daniels Gallery was all sculpture, all black wood structures as he called them. That vocabulary that he used, the fact that he called them structures, I think is very telling. His three-dimensional work he always felt had more of an affiliation and a relationship with architecture than it did with traditional sculpture.
Concrete block structures definitely have a relationship with ancient monuments, even in their titles referring to towers and pyramids, but they’re also adamantly urban and adamantly 20th and 21st century works of art. They have a minimalist austerity and simplicity. You can figure out the program of the concrete block structure, you can see that the towers are four cubes wide and separated by cubes that go eight across. There’s a real austerity and simplicity to them and it seems fitting that we have this structure on campus close to the iconic UT tower nearby.
The cube was a form that LeWitt explored in every media. How perfect that the wall drawing nearby shows cubes floating on these red, blue, and yellow backgrounds. But actually in spite of how lush visually this work, the wall drawing, is it’s also made with a simplicity of materials that you see in the concrete block structure as well. How it’s made is just using three primary colors and black. And there’s something wonderful about the way that just those three primary colors and black can create a sort of kaleidoscope of color here.
One of the things that makes LeWitt’s conceptual art practice radical is the fact that he emphasized and privileged the concept over the execution. But it also sometimes perplexes people that he didn’t make this wall drawing or this concrete block structure with his own hand. But Sol really felt, he drew an analogy that I think is really instructive, he saw the artist’s role as being like a composer and his wall drawing, for example, being like a musical score. And the way he saw it, if Bach creates a musical score, just because other people are playing doesn’t make it not Bach’s work, it can just be played by different musicians in different parts of the world at the same time, but it’s still Bach. And similarly LeWitt loved the fact that other people made his work. He relished their contributions but ultimately he felt that it was still his work of art.
The role of the drafters and the builders and the masons and the fabricators Sol always also openly acknowledged. One of the things that’s unusual about LeWitt labels in art museums and you can see this here also in the GDC building—he always listed the names of the artists who helped make the work.
I think there’s something fitting about having this wall drawing in a building associated with computer science. LeWitt created this language that I think has interesting parallels with computer code. If you think about computer code it’s a series of zeros and ones that they’re simultaneously incredibly simple—it’s just zeros and ones—and infinitely complex. And LeWitt’s language was the same way. He was working with “R”, “Y”, “B”—red, yellow, blue—and he had his own little code of 1,2,3,4, which referred to the four directions of lines for pencil wall drawings. So there’s a kind of shared spirit, I think, in LeWitt’s work and in computer science that makes this work so fitting to be here on campus.