Sol LeWitt, Wall Drawing #520

Sol LeWitt, Wall Drawing #520, 1987/2013. Colored ink wash on wall Three walls: 148 x 450 inches; 148 x 219 inches; 148 x 544 inches. Courtesy of the Estate of Sol LeWitt. Photo by Mark Menjivar.

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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.

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Sol LeWitt, Wall Drawing #520, 1987/2013.

American, 1928-2007

During the 1960s, Sol LeWitt helped formulate the tenets of a burgeoning conceptual art movement by arguing that the concept behind a work of art was more important than its execution. His instructions-based conceptual practice proposed a very different model of artistic authorship, one that was defined by an artist’s ideas, not by the personal touch or mark of the artist’s hand. In providing a set of instructions for others to carry out, LeWitt likened his role as an artist to that of an architect or composer. He drafted compositions that could exist in more than one place at once and could be realized by others in the same way that many different musicians can play a Bach sonata.

Although LeWitt is best known for the numerous wall drawings he made during his lifetime, when asked once about inventing the medium, the artist drolly replied: “I think the cavemen came first.” Unlike their predecessors, however, LeWitt’s wall drawings do not exist as permanent objects but rather as a diagram and set of instructions.

During the 1980s, LeWitt produced many jewel-toned, ink-wash wall drawings like Wall Drawing #520, dramatically expanding his repertoire from the pencil versions that predominated the first decade of his career. In this work—one of the few that the artist conceived for three walls—cubes float across the surface in rich, variegated colors. The palette and slight depth of the geometric figures attest to the artist’s interest in Italian Renaissance frescoes, one that was spurred by the artist’s move to Spoleto, Italy, in 1980.

While these works depart from the more muted palette and systematic logic of LeWitt’s early pencil wall drawings, they also reflect his continued interest in using the cube as a basic geometric element. Equally significant are the the tonal variations achieved in LeWitt’s ink wash wall drawings, which result from layering only primary colors and gray. While the spirit of Wall Drawing # 520 is one of modesty, simplicity, and restraint, the visual results are lush.

Drawn by: Michael Abelman, Rachel Houston, Gabriel Hurier, Eileen Lammers, Clint Reams, Jon Shapley, Patrick Sheehy

First Installation: Whitney Museum of American Art, New York, April 1987

First Drawn by: Catherine Clarke, Douglas Geiger, David Higginbotham, Anthony Sansotta, Patricia Thornley, and Jo Watanabe

Collection of The LeWitt Estate

Sol LeWitt, Wall Drawing #520, 1987/2013. Photo by Mark Menjivar.
Sol LeWitt, Wall Drawing #520, 1987/2013. Photo by Mark Menjivar.

Location: North building of The Bill & Melinda Gates Computer Science Complex & Dell Computer Science Hall (GDC)

GPS: 30.286264, -97.736864