Allen Features Sol LeWitt
Although I could not remember the binomial coefficient equation during my research methods exam last week, I was able to witness its physical manifestation in Sol LeWitt’s “49 Three-Part Variations on Three Different Kinds of Cubes” (1967-1971). Acquired in 1972 by the Allen Art Museum, it has undergone a two-year restoration by Allen director Stephanie Wiles and conservator Heather Galloway of the Intermuseum Conservation Association.
According to the spring/summer 2007 exhibitions and programs booklet from the Allen, the work “explores three types of cubes: solid cube, cube with opposite sides removed and cube with one side removed, representing all possible permutations of these cubes and their arrangements.”
It is unnecessary to understand how to compute the binomial coefficient when observing LeWitt’s “49 Three-Part Variations”; the importance lies in what the equation signifies. The artist once said, “in conceptual art, the idea or concept is the most important aspect of the work…All the planning and decisions are made beforehand and the execution is a perfunctory affair. The idea becomes the machine that makes the art.”
In 1955, LeWitt began his artistic career as a graphic designer for architect I.M. Pei. But it wasn’t until 1965 that he began the work for which he is best known: serial and modular wall and floor structures. LeWitt made his first wall drawing in 1968 using pencil on plaster. Most recently his drawings appeared on the walls of the Allen’s Ellen Johnson Gallery.
Over Winter Term, eight Oberlin students, with the assistance of two of LeWitt’s artists, created two new wall drawings measuring 18 feet in height. Takeshi Arita and Sachi Cho instructed the students in conjunction with LeWitt’s plans for the pieces, which included a hand-drawn marquette, a Photoshop mock-up and a set of instructions.
“Sol LeWitt gave us the plans and they were executed by other artists. This is an integral part of the process,” explained senior Harry Gassel.
On the far wall of the gallery are thick, bold stripes in red, yellow, blue, orange, green and purple, set behind a large black X that crosses the tall wall-canvas. Facing this piece is the other wall drawing, which is filled with graphite lines. The densely scribbled areas form six thick horizontal lines that move across the wall.
“Sol LeWitt says with the directions [that] the art piece will finish itself,” said Gassel, addressing those who attended the opening reception last Friday.
However, Gassel said, “No, the art does not finish itself. It requires hours of man labor.”
In January, the eight students worked diligently; all professed that through this routine, they came to know the pieces very well.
“It was a charming experience to be part of the process,” said Gassel.
For the wall drawing filled with graphite lines, students were told to keep their strokes deliberately random and not to pay attention to any one line. Instead, each line was to be seen as one element in a larger system of lines.
College junior Catherine Janis said that at first, it seemed like she was just drawing a pile of scribbles. But eventually, she came to realize that “the experience went beyond the properties of one line or scribble…All this work about scribbling was about the idea of the art, but also about the process of making the art and the community that it brings.”
The pieces will be on display in the Ellen Johnson Gallery of the Allen from now until June 17.