SOL LEWITT A TRIBUTE
SOL LEWITT A TRIBUTE
Exhibition concept: Benno Tempel, in collaboration with Frouke van Dijke Installation of Wall Drawing #1024: Asmir Ademagic Lenders to the exhibition: Direct Art Collection Philipp von Rosen Galerie, Cologne Galerie Christian Lethert, Cologne Rhona Hoffman Gallery, Chicago Design of e-book: Gemeentemuseum Den Haag
This e-book is published in conjunction with the exhibition Sol LeWitt. A tribute in GEM Museum for Contemporary Art The Hague, 17 December 2016 – 9 April 2017. The exhibition and catalogue have been made possible thanks to the collaboration of many. We are grateful for all their efforts. We would especially like to thank the lenders to the exhibition, The Estate of Sol LeWitt and Asmir Ademagic. All rights reserved. No part of this publication may be reproduced, stored in a retrieval system or transmitted in any form or by any means, electronic, mechanical, photocopying, recording or otherwise, without prior permission of the publisher. © c/o Pictoright Amsterdam 2016 © 2016 GEM, museum voor actuele kunst and authors
EXHIBITION MINIMAL ART 1968
EXHIBITION SOL LEWITT 1970
EXHIBITION SOL LEWITT 1992
EXHIBITION SOL LEWITT 2005
SOL LEWITT HERMETIC CLARITY
ON ENNO DEVELING AND SOL LEWITT
The GEM Museum for Contemporary Art is part of the Gemeentemuseum Den Haag. The building, erected in 1960-1961 and extended in 2002, has for long been a place where the museum organises exhibitions of international contemporary art. This exhibition history of more than four decades is rich in sometimes even historic moments. The reopening of the building after its renovation is a time to reflect on this rich history and to connect it with the art of today. Sol LeWitt is an artist with close links to both the GEM and the Gemeentemuseum Den Haag. It was his favourite museum and he spoke with passion about its beautiful architecture and rich collection. LeWittâ€™s association with the Gemeentemuseum goes back 6
people as possible. In this publication you will find designs for publications, structures etc. made by LeWitt for the Gemeentemuseum. Among them are a logo made for museum carrier bags and a design for sculptures on the ponds of the museum that were never executed. We hope that with Sol LeWitt. A Tribute we can share with you part of the history of LeWitt and the Gemeentemuseum Den Haag.
a long way: to as long ago as 1968, when the museum held Europe’s first ever Minimal Art exhibition. Two years later it followed up with LeWitt’s first solo exhibition in a European museum. Others followed in 1992 and 2005. Over time, a number of the artist’s works were acquired for the museum’s collection. They include the five geometrical shapes displayed on the outer wall of the GEM and the wall paintings in the foyer and staircase of the Gemeentemuseum.
In this publication you will find, in addition to a general introduction, a reprint of the article that curator Enno Develing (19331999) wrote for the Minimal Art catalogue of 1968 and an article by Jannet de Goede that gives a deeper insight into the ideas of Enno Develing.
Now, in 2017, ten years after LeWitt’s death, it is a good moment to reflect on the collaboration between the artist and the museum by showing works in the collection and unrealised plans. There has been a growing feeling over the past ten years that LeWitt’s influence has only increased since his death. In this tribute to LeWitt we wanted to show how far-reaching his influence has become. The exhibition and this publication will bring LeWitt’s historically important works face to face with works by artists of a new generation: Rana Begum, Jose Dávila, Susan Hefuna and Esther Tielemans. The combinations show how thoroughly LeWitt’s ideas and working method have changed contemporary art.
With this exhibition we hope to demonstrate the versatility of an artist who himself declared that he was in love with the Gemeentemuseum.
Benno Tempel Director
LeWitt’s social awareness was of influence on his publications and exhibitions. For him, publications were a way to communicate and share ideas. The GEM has tried to organise this exhibition and publication in the spirit of this socially inclusive attitude. We have chosen to issue an e-book because the format seems to us to meet LeWitt’s wish to share publications with as many 7
Exhibition MINIMAL ART 1968
Invitation to the Minimal Art exhibition at the Gemeentemuseum, 1968
xhibition catalogue of the Minimal Art exhibition in 1968, showing Sol LeWittâ€™s Structure ABCD E Gemeentemuseum Den Haag Structure by Sol LeWitt at the Minimal Art exhibition at the Gemeentemuseum Den Haag, 1968
Exhibition SOL LEWITT 1970
Statement Sol LeWitt (1928-2007), part of the 1970 LeWitt exhibition at the Gemeentemuseum Den Haag
From left to right: Sol LeWitt’s Structures outside the GEM, 1970, Gemeentemuseum Den Haag Sol LeWitt’s Structures at the GEM, 1970, Gemeentemuseum Den Haag
Exhibition SOL LEWITT 1970
Cover of the exhibition catalogue of Sol LeWitt, 1970 Gemeentemuseum Den Haag
Sol LeWitt (1928-2007) Sketchbook with LeWittâ€™s design for his 1970 exhibition catalogue, Gemeentemuseum Den Haag
Exhibition SOL LEWITT 1970
Exhibition SOL LEWITT 1992
Poster for the exhibition Sol LeWitt Drawings 1958-1992, 1992, Gemeentemuseum Den Haag
Exhibition view of Sol LeWitt Drawings 1958-1992 at the Gemeentemuseum Den Haag, 1992
Exhibition SOL LEWITT 1992
Sol LeWitt installing the exhibition at the Gemeentemuseum Den Haag, 1992.
Installation views of the exhibition Sol LeWitt Drawings 1958-1992 at the Gemeentemuseum Den Haag, 1992
Exhibition SOL LEWITT 2005
Installation views of the exhibition Sol LeWitt: photographic works at the Gemeentemuseum Den Haag, 2005
Sol LeWitt holding a scale model of Serial Project I (B), (1966-1970)
SOL LEWITT HERMETIC CLARITY by Benno Tempel
his ABCD series. His constructions were not seen as sculptures, but as something new: structures. The ABCD series consist of 4 structures: A, B, C and D. Structures that could be arranged in different orders, as one large piece or as a number of smaller structures, but always with an impact on the space. LeWitt placed them in a certain order but, within that order, there is also freedom for change. The Gemeentemuseum showed Serial Project I (B) (1966-1970) in 1970 and subsequently acquired it. It is now one of the highlights of the collection.
During the 1960s, Sol LeWitt worked within the boundaries of the grid. At the end of his life he had – like many artists in the last stages of their careers – the ability to make very loose, colourful and complex, almost baroque structures. Although the early work and the late work seem miles apart, they are tied together by the same philosophy. American art is often characterized by its gigantic scale. The country of unlimited possibilities and sublimely monumental nature offers artists opportunities to think big. It is suited not only to dramatic and expressive gestures of the brush, but also to a repetitive system of geometric forms. LeWitt understood that size is an important element, as can be seen in
The famous ABCD series are exemplary for LeWitt’s practice. A simple order but with freedom that gives complexity. Lucy Lippard described this complexity by emphasizing the oppositions that are at play within a work. LeWitt’s art is 23
left: Sol LeWitt (1928-2007), Serial Project I (B), 1966-1970, Gemeentemuseum Den Haag middel and right: Part of LeWittâ€™s Serial Project I (B) at the GEM Sol LeWitt (1928-2007), Variations of incomplete open cubes, 1974, Gemeentemuseum Den Haag
Carl Andre (b. 1935), Weir, 1983, wood, Gemeentemuseum Den Haag
about generation, but also about continuous regenerations, is an activity of permutation, rotation, mirroring, reversals, juxtaposition and superimposition. 1 You can hardly call that simple.
Carl Andre (b. 1935) it is easy to see a prehistoric connotation. With LeWitt, you sense it in the hermetic content of his structures and at the same time in the clarity. The simple complexity of his work can give you that feeling of divine insight; it can work as the appearance of a clear light.
The complexity and hermetic qualities of LeWittâ€™s work also bring to the surface the difficulty with the term Minimal Art, because it seems to imply that it is about eliminating everything but the essential. Moreover, in Minimal Art there seems no place for emotional content. It is probable, therefore, that the strong link between Minimal Art and archaeology, shamanism and mysticism or spirituality has received little attention. The Minimal artistsâ€™ alchemic fascination is easily overlooked. Within the works of Robert Smithson (1938-1973) it is clearly visible and in the structures of
LeWittâ€™s attitude towards life and art are inseparable. On the one hand there is his social involvement and his concern with promoting and supporting young artists, among them female artists; on the other, there are his projects in which he strove for the greatest possible outreach. In 1968 LeWitt started making wall drawings, large drawings directly on the wall of a building. This enabled him to reach a large audience. These drawings can be seen as truly democratic. 25
Sol LeWitt (1928-2007), Instructions and drawings for the making of Serial Object I (B) from 1966, 1984, marker on paper, 29,7 x 21 cm, Gemeentemuseum Den Haag
WORKING FOR LEWITT 2
impossible once more and more wall drawings were being executed. It was physically impossible for him to realise them himself in so many different places in the USA and Europe. On the other hand, his social conscience spoke for appointing a team. He hired young artists, often in their last year at the local art academy, to give them experience and some income. The social element is of great importance. In a sense, LeWitt created a modern workshop, comparable to those of the Middle Ages.
LeWittâ€™s radical view that the idea or concept of an artwork is more important than its execution has fundamentally changed contemporary art. What is often overlooked is that this mentality led LeWitt to adopt a different working practice. His wall drawings made him realise that he could delegate to the maximum. LeWitt started working with assistants. He took the decisive step of letting a team execute his work. To make this possible, he made a diagram with instructions on how to execute the drawing. For the owner, he produced a certificate in which he stated the idea for the work.
The artist was no longer overseeing the execution. Instead, a number of supervisors travelled around working out drawings in collaboration with art students (this method can be compared with that of an architect, who never really builds a building himself). A team
There were two reasons for using a team. On the one hand, executing the wall drawings himself became 26
Assistants of LeWitt installing his wall drawing, 1970 Gemeentemuseum Den Haag Sol LeWitt (1928-2007), Proposal for Stairway Wall Drawing #373 in the Gemeentemuseum Den Haag, marker on paper, 27,8 x 21,7 cm, Gemeentemuseum Den Haag
was instructed by a supervisor. LeWitt worked with a number of regular supervisors in USA and Europe. Each project had one supervisor, who worked along with the students. 3 To become a supervisor, you needed to work for at least two years under other supervisors, since any lack of knowledge would inevitably lead to mistakes.
colours, inks or paints to be used. But there is often no indication of scale in the instruction drawing. It was not uncommon that, when the assistants started working on a wall drawing, they were confronted with details that had not been in the plan LeWitt had received; for example, a door, window or electrical outlet might not have been included in the plan, but was a very real hindrance in the actual situation. A phone call to LeWitt always resulted in a simple conclusion: â€˜it is up to youâ€™.
What made the team-based working structure so revolutionary was that LeWitt often did not see the wall at all. Neither did he see the result at the end. He relied on the team to do its job. The design was done by LeWitt, after receiving technical details of the wall. With the help of photos or construction drawings of the building, he wrote down the instructions. The instruction paper, called a diagram, gave details about
The supervisor decided how to begin. For example, by working from colour to colour or from plane to plane. Most supervisors would start with the lighter colours and end with the darker ones. To execute drawings, teams often needed 27
Assistants of Sol LeWitt installing Wall Drawing #373: Lines in Four Directions (equal spacing on an unequal wall) at the Gemeentemuseum Den Haag, 1982
Report of the installation of LeWitt’s Wall drawing in 1970 at the Gemeentemuseum Den Haag
to invent tools. Teams did not make use of projection on the wall, but drew by hand with crayon, ink and – from around 1998 – acrylic paint. 4
Although frescos have a long tradition in the history of art, LeWitt’s wall drawings sprang from a different intention and, in that sense, can be called a new medium in art. The philosophy of a LeWitt wall drawing is complex, as are the drawings themselves. First of all, it starts with the social element that made the drawings so in tune with the spirit of the 1960s. Its size and location, often in public places, made the wall drawing a highly accessible medium; it was a democratic way of bringing art to a larger public. At the same time, a wall drawing marks a break from the traditional museum procedures for showing art. Museums no longer need to take account of facilities like loan contracts, insurance and art transportation. A piece of paper with the instructions and local artists to execute the work are all that is needed.
The supervisor can be seen as a conductor. He interprets the instructions in the diagram, including LeWitt’s references and annotations. The team functions as an orchestra, with the supervisor /conductor directing the artists /musicians. The rules are laid out and written down on an instruction paper, like the way a composer writes and annotates a musical score. This means that the instructions leave room for interpretation. A drawing made twice, by different supervisors, would probably result in two slightly different wall drawings. 28
Asmir Ademagic installing Wall drawing #1019 at the Gemeentemuseum Den Haag, 2002
The wall drawings became colourful from the late 1990â€™s on. Like the American artist Mark Rothko (1903-1970), LeWitt could not escape the influence of the Italian Renaissance. Seeing frescos helped LeWitt (like Rothko before him) to formulate his ideas. As he stated, â€˜I would like to produce something I would not be ashamed to show Giottoâ€™. 5 What makes the wall drawings such a visual experience is the combination of size, form and colour. The wall drawings are very complex, with more than one layer of colour. The effect of the inks used in them, opaque as in a fresco painting, is to give depth to the drawing. 6
rules of engagement. The rules indicated in the diagram must be followed strictly. How important this is to truly understanding the work becomes clear when we take a closer look at the late work. Superficially, these works appear baroque. Their nature seems to be loose and playful, the colours are bright and the lines and forms are curved like an arabesque. But the intention of the artist still flows from the same principle: it is the line (or, in the later work, a multiplicity of lines) that forms the whole. What looks free and expressive springs from the same philosophical attitude as the early work: in the beginning there is a line. It is all about this line and how it is applied. From this rule new lines follow and this results, in the end, in a form. It is tempting to think that the end result, the whole form, is what it is all about.
An important factor in the understanding of a wall drawing, for the public but also for the construction team, is that the drawing is realised by sticking to the 29
Sol LeWitt (1928-2007) Wall Drawing #1024, 2002, black pencil, Direct Art Collection First drawn for exhibition at Philip Alan Gallery, New York 2002, Sol LeWitt and Lindsey Nobel. Drawn by Tomas Ramberg. Curated by Björn Ressle. Five minimalist artists, Björn Ressle Fine Art, New York, May – July 2005.
This becomes clear when we look at Wall Drawing #1024 (2002) . We see two forms: a square and a circle. But, coming close, we find that these forms are built from a sea of lines. The work is a beginning and an end in itself; the details are part of the whole. By sticking to the rules of engagement, LeWitt could make his late work as complex as he desired.
also – very important to the humanist LeWitt – the human scale of the galleries and the intimacy that this creates between artworks and visitors. It is understandable why LeWitt loved the Gemeentemuseum so much. As he said, ‘even empty, the museum is still worth visiting’. The geometric forms of his works were in a sense a continuation of the avant-garde styles of the 1920s and 1930s. And how could a building with such a strict construction method – based throughout on the dimensions of the 11-cm bricks especially produced for the museum – not appeal to LeWitt?
BERLAGE’S GEMEENTEMUSEUM The Gemeentemuseum, designed by Dutch architect H.P. Berlage (1856-1934) and dating from 1935, is one of the finest – and earliest – examples of modern museum architecture of the 20th century. It is notable for the square forms of the building, the bricks of the exterior, the daylight-illuminated galleries, but
LeWitt’s love of the Gemeentemuseum resulted in numerous projects and plans. Some of these plans were unfortunately never realised, as with the sculptures 30
Exterior and interior of the Gemeentemuseum Den Haag
Sol LeWitt (1928-2007), design for the renovation of the Museum of Education, 1983 Gemeentemuseum Den Haag
Sol LeWitt (1928-2007), Design for carrier bag of Haags Gemeentemuseum (currently Gemeentemseum Den Haag), 1987, Gemeentemuseum Den Haag
Sol LeWitt (1928-2007) Relief with Geometric Figures, 1989, Gemeentemuseum Den Haag
Sol LeWitt (1928-2007) Design for Relief with Geometric Figures, 1988 Gemeentemuseum Den Haag
intended to be placed outside, in front of the museum. An remarkable design is the bag for the museum (1987).
designs for this relief in the collection, we can conclude that this effect was not intended by the artist and is for account of the executor, who misinterpreted the parallel perspective of the designs.
The design for the façade of the GEM, Relief with Geometric Figures (1989), is still a prominent landmark. The work was donated by the artist in memory of Josine De Bruyn Kops, the wife of curator Enno Develing. The eye-catching element in it is the illusionistic construction. In comparison with other works by the artist, it is an impossible construction, more in line with M.C. Escher (1898-1972) – an important artist in the Gemeentemuseum collection – than with, say Piet Mondrian (1872-1944) or El Lissitzky (1890-1941). Looking at the
LeWitt’s fondness for the architecture of the Gemeentemuseum made the building the ideal place for his wall drawings. The first wall drawing, # 373. Lines in Four Directions (equal spacing on unequal walls, black ink) was installed in 1982-1983 in one of the four major staircases of the museum (see). Unfortunately, this drawing disappeared under white paint during the thorough restoration (1995-1998) of Berlage’s masterpiece. When the 33
Sol LeWitt (1928-2007), Wall Drawing number #373: Lines in Four Directions (equal spacing on an unequal wall), 1983 Reinstalled in 2000, pencil, fixative, varnish, graphite, Indian ink and latex on wall, Gemeentemuseum Den Haag Acquired from Sol LeWitt in 1983
From left ro right: Sol LeWitt (1928-2007), Wall drawing #1017, Wall drawing #1018, Wall drawing #1019, Wall drawing #1020, all drawing #1021, 2002, Gemeentemuseum Den Haag. Gift from Sol LeWitt
drawing was reinstalled in 2000, the artist donated five other wall drawings: five Isometric wall drawings, four in colour – nos. 1017, 1019, 1020, 1021 – and no. 1018 in grey and black, all in acrylic. A structure in brick was erected in the courtyard garden of the museum, where it stood until 2014.
A special feature of the collection of the Gemeentemuseum is the large number of artists (among them LeWitt) who have had a strong influence not only on other artists, but also on architects and designers. Examples include the large collection of works by De Stijl artists and Constant Nieuwenhuys’ (1920-2005) impressive long-term New Babylon project (1956 – 1974).
Sol LeWitt (1928-2007) Wall drawing #1018, 2002, Gemeentemuseum Den Haag. Gift from Sol LeWitt
SoL LeWitt (1928-2007) Rows in Four Directions and Tower, 2002, Gemeentemuseum Den Haag
Constant (1920-2005) Little Labyr, 1989, metal, wood, paint, aluminium, Gemeentemuseum Den Haag
The most important collection the Gemeentemuseum houses is the approx. 300 works by Piet Mondrian â€“ the largest collection of the artistâ€™s work in the world. It is worth considering briefly what connects Mondrian and LeWitt.
artists show. The witty comments and outstanding honesty of LeWitt are well known. The remarks of Mondrian are much lesser known but show a same rational way of thinking, springing from a strong artistic vision â€“ a vision that permeated every part of their lives and their work.
Mondrian is famous for avoiding curved lines in his abstract compositions. He preferred the straight line because it is never seen in nature. Furthermore, Mondrian was one of the first artists to use the grid. What links these artists is their visual intelligence: their works appear to be so simple, but turn out to be complex. The clarity of the work deceives the eye. At the risk of being accused of overstating the case for a connection, I think it is also striking how much wit both 36
Piet Mondrian (1872-1944) Composition with gray lines, 1918, oil on canvas, 84,5 x 84,5 cm, Gemeentemuseum Den Haag Piet Mondrian (1872-1944) Tableau I, 1921, oil on canvas, 103 x 100 cm, Gemeentemuseum Den Haag
Rana Begum (b. 1977) No. 342, 2012, steel and laquer, 71 x 61 x 15 cm Courtesy Galerie Christian Lethert, Cologne Rana Begum (b. 1977) No. 392, 2013, steel and laquer, 91 x 135 x 48 cm Galerie Christian Lethert, Cologne
LEWITT’S LEGACY From his influential publications Paragraphs on Conceptual Art (1967) and Sentences on Conceptual Art (1969) to his serial works and from his collaboration with artists to his architectural interventions, LeWitt’s legacy is vast. Much has been written about his influence on other artists and the support he gave them. 7
to show how widely LeWitt’s thoughts and work have travelled. This approach enables us to look at LeWitt as an artist with a tremendous influence on our present day and underlines the vitality of his work. It is no exaggeration to say that LeWitt’s ideas and working method changed the course of contemporary art. The artists we have asked to participate never worked directly with LeWitt, as dozens of others did. We have done this deliberately. We believe that by widening the gap between Sol LeWitt and the selected artists we are able to show how diverse his influence is. Some of the artists have declared their relationship to LeWitt in the past. Others have not spoken about it before.
This exhibition and catalogue does not seek to offer a complete overview of the artistic collaborations of LeWitt. Far from it. We want to pay tribute to Sol LeWitt and to present four artists whose work shows the extent of his legacy. For many contemporary artists, he is such a natural point of reference that you may even wonder if they are still aware of the source of their inspiration. Through this small selection of four artists, we try
Rana Begum (b. 1977) is a British artist with roots in Bangladesh. Her work 38
Sol LeWitt (1928-2007) Untitled, 1992, gouache on paper, 19,8 x 35,3 cm, Gemeentemuseum Den Haag
is about form, colour, spatial relationships and perspective. Her objects are influenced by the formal language of Minimal Art, but also flow from her childhood in Bangladesh, where she grew up among the traditional geometrical Islamic patterns and play of light in local mosques.
In a recent interview, Begum talks about her interest in Minimal Art: ‘I was introduced to works of Agnes Martin, Judd, Sol Lewitt and Frank Stella during my Foundation course and was instantly drawn to their minimal approach. A longing to distil and create something pure took hold and everything was stripped back in my work. Returning to basics in this way afforded me a far greater understanding of abstract art and provided a far richer means of expression’.
Begum’s practice is characterized by the reflected light that accentuates the geometry and colours of her constructions. The result is a tension between the industrial materials used to construct the forms and the ethereal lightness and fragility of the works. Begum’s work can be seen as an amalgam of Modernism (Op Art and Minimal Art) and the longstanding tradition of repetitive geometric patterns within Islamic art and architecture.
In the same interview, she speaks about her in-depth research on light and geometry. The interaction between light and her work bears a striking resemblance to that in the larger wall drawings of LeWitt, especially those in the Gemeentemuseum, with its daylight illuminated galleries: ‘I remain captivated 39
Jose Dávila (b. 1974) Huckleberries are Berries but not all the Berries are Huckleberries, 2013, metal frames and enamel paint, 300 x 310 x 170 cm Courtesy Philipp von Rosen Galerie, Cologne
by the way natural light interacts with the work throughout the day, transforming it and creating an experience, which is both temporal and sensorial’. 8
expression. They bestow a sense of calm and serenity, leaving the viewer feeling exposed and laid bare somehow. A sense of the infinite can connect us with works of art. In terms of materials, a single box section may appear as a self-contained geometric element. However, once it is used as a unit in a greater repeating pattern, it becomes part of something open-ended and infinite. This sense of the infinite is accentuated by the use of industrial materials, which in themselves are part of an unending process. I see an indisputable beauty in this mass-produced language employed by Sol LeWitt. This uniformity and repetition takes on new life once presented as a work of art.
When asked about her views on LeWitt, Begum stated: ‘Both Minimalism and Constructivism have greatly inspired the way I think about my work and in many ways form the foundations from which it is created. These movements served as a catalyst for my desire to create something that was beyond the material. Sol LeWitt’s work embodies this ethos and directed my attention to how, as an artist, you can embrace the physicality of materials while simultaneously exploring the more protean elements of light and form. I find his rational, logical processes result in limitless possibilities in terms of
In a more abstract sense, my work is open-ended in that it is in a constant 40
Sol LeWitt (1928-2007) Horizontal Bands (More or Less), 2002, gouache on paper, 153,4 x 230,5 cm, Gemeentemuseum Den Haag
state of evolution, with each work informing the next. There is no sense of reaching a final conclusion. LeWitt placed great importance on the process involved in making a work of art, stating in 1971 that “All intervening steps, scribbles, sketches, drawings, failed work models, studies, thoughts, conversations, are of interest.” It is important for me to know that work has potential to be pushed further and it is more often than not these intervening steps which provide the key’. 9
the functional and non-functional aspects, aesthetics and horrors of Modernism. The sculptures refer to architecture and constructions, but are clearly useless. For his sculptures Dávila uses materials that can be found on construction sites. Although the materials are solid, his sculptures have a fragile balance and seem to underline the principles of equilibrium. Described as ‘Drawings in Space’, they are compositions in tension. Invisible forces keep the sculpture upright. Huckleberries are Berries but not all the Berries are Huckleberries (2013) can be seen as a three-dimensional drawing challenging gravity.
Jose Dávila (b. 1974) is trained as an architect and makes sculptural installations that refer to the avant-garde art and architecture of the twentieth century. His work reveals how Minimal Art has evolved and re-invented itself over time. In his work, he simultaneously pays tribute to and criticizes Modernism, by referring to
The collision of functional and non-functional aspects, aesthetics and horrors brings to light the conjunction of many 41
Susan Hefuna (b. 1962) Woman Cairo, 2010, wood and black ink, 200 x 200 cm, courtesy Rhona Hoffman Gallery, Chicago
sources, not only in Modernism but also in Latin America, reflecting the globalization of our current era. This clash of oppositions makes palpable that the so-called rationalism of Modernism, and thus of Minimal Art, is an idée fixe. In a statement to the Gemeentemuseum, Dávila speaks about the mysticism of Minimal Art, an element that is all too often neglected: ‘There’s a thought shared both by LeWitt and Judd, that works of art bearing no physical presence or works having to do with text or language are immediately labelled as conceptual – a very arguable agreement indeed.
idea becomes a machine that makes art, using his own words. This does not necessarily mean it’s rational, or eloquent. It is a mental process related to intuition – a notion quoted by him as being mystical; jumping to conclusions that logic cannot reach or explain. This is where successful ideas generally have the appearance of simplicity because they seem inevitable. Ideas are discovered by intuition. Conceptual Artists are mystics rather than rationalists.’ 10
I’m interested in how Sol Lewitt describes Conceptual Art, as a form that exists in the planning and decision-making, far from the hand that actually executes the work. Or how the
The cultural background of Susan Hefuna (b. 1962) plays a prominent role in her installations. Taking the traditional mashrabiya window screens of 42
Susan Hefuna (b. 1962) Form, 2009, watercolour on paper, artist’s collection
the Arab world as her point of departure, the German Egyptian artist creates geometrical grid structures that recall the formal idiom of Minimal Art but also convey socio-political messages. Hefuna’s German and Egyptian background is a matrix for questions about location, identity and history. Especially in the grid form of the Mashrabiya, a carved wood or stone architectural latticework screen, she investigates aesthetic tradition, national custom, and exchanged gazes.
screens can also have a much more positive association: filtering the light and cooling an interior, and allowing one to observe without being seen. Hefuna says about these associations: ‘I’m aware that people read my work differently, depending on their own cultural or social context. They only see what they know. In my experience, most human beings are not able to see the world without a screen of social and cultural projections. The mashrabiya became a symbol that operates in two directions with the possibility for dialogue and awareness’. 11
In the Western mind, the Mashrabiya found on the windows of Egyptian buildings is associated with harems and suppression. This is a result of the screens’ frequent appearance in 19th-century Orientalist paintings. But Hefuna’s work speaks about more than the position of women in Middle Eastern culture. The
For Hefuna herself, there is also the attraction of the abstract form of the structures, the grid-like pattern. Since 2004, she has also been making wooden and bronze screens with English and Arabic texts incorporated in them 43
Esther Tielemans (b. 1976) Untitled (Pedestal Painting), 2014, acrylic on plywood, various sizes, artist’s collection
alongside abstract signs. An example is Woman Cairo (2010).
Nowadays, abstraction is all too often dismissed as an elitist style adopted as a demonstration of ‘good taste’. The social element is easily overlooked, but for Tielemans, as for LeWitt, it is an important part of the intention of the work. It can be argued that to appreciate an abstract work a visitor needs no context: it is about the effect and intensity of the colour, the way paint is applied, and how it reflects or absorbs light. It is a physical reaction.
Dutch artist Esther Tielemans (b. 1976) investigates the sculptural qualities of painting. She combines the geometrical and industrial characteristics of Minimal Art with a highly expressive gestural manner of painting to produce ‘three-dimensional paintings’. Her painting installations engage with their surroundings and with the viewer.
The resemblance to the works of LeWitt is stated as follows by the artist: ‘A square, circle and triangle: those are the first things that come to mind when I think of the work of Sol LeWitt. They are the basic shapes you can use to seek order and create a framework to help you understand the world and find peace amid the chaos.
The installations make the viewer interact with the work, as is the case with Minimal Art. The public is surrounded by paintings and moves in between them. The three-dimensional objects are mansized and obstruct the field of vision. Only by moving through the space can the visitor gain a full picture.12 44
of cloudy skies inserted into a grid. The endless cut-outs of skies seem to me to emphasize the infinite range of possibilities available when you’re deciding on a composition, and the never-ending quest for the ultimate image. But at the same time they stress the necessity of creating structure and clarity. It’s an extremely familiar way of looking and thinking, but one that I personally use to look for something quite different. In that sense, I sometimes feel ambivalent about LeWitt’s work, because it simply confronts me too sharply with my own degree of control and wish to be more intuitive in a directed way.
Esther Tielemans (b. 1976) A Circle is a Soft Square I, 2014, acrylic on plywood, 2 x 120 x 120 cm, artist’s collection
For that reason, I have always been intrigued by the Complex Forms: they are at once supremely geometrical and irregular. The pieces start with a line drawing but then are pulled into the third dimension, like a sculpture. It’s almost like the push/pull function in a 3D-modelling program, such as SketchUp. As a result, the objects feel like three-dimensional paintings: flat three-dimensionality.
In that sense, LeWitt’s work is perhaps more relevant today than ever before. His Wall Drawings look meditative, almost mystical. The scribbles, parallel lines and curves look like the result of some sort of therapeutic activity. At the same time, the works have a physical impact and the lines and planes lend a new dynamic to the surrounding architecture, seeming to create a space within a space. In my own work, I describe this as three-dimensional flatness.
For me, though, LeWitt’s most inspiring ‘work’ is a letter. He wrote it in 1965 to Eva Hesse, to help her overcome her creative block and uncertainties about her artisthood: “You belong in the most secret part of you. Don’t worry about cool, make your own uncool. Make your own, your own world. If you fear, make it work for you.” “You must practice being stupid, dumb, unthinking, empty. Then you will be able to DO!”.’ 13
The grid is another important element. Things are literally pigeonholed: inserted into a structure to make them understandable at personal and other levels. Clouds (1978) is one of my favourites. It consists of 54 photographs of details 45
1 ‘The structures, the structures and the wall drawings, the structures and the wall drawings and the books’, Lucy R. Lippard, p. 25. In Exh. Cat. Sol LeWitt, New York (Museum of Modern Art), 1978. 2 Based on an interview with Asmir Ademagic, The Hague, 17 November 2016. 3 In the Netherlands, artists that worked in LeWitt’s teams included Piet Dirkx, Fransje Killaars, Marien Schouten and Roy Villevoye. Susanna Singer, Wim Starkenburg, Asmir Ademagic and others worked as supervisors 4 The works made with acrylic are still called drawings, because they started with a drawn outline. 5 Exh. Cat.Sol LeWitt Wall Drawings 1968-1984, Amsterdam (Stedelijk Museum), Eindhoven (Van Abbemuseum), Hartford CT. (Wadsworth Atheneum), 1984, p.25. 6 Inks used during LeWitt’s lifetime are no longer available, which means that new installations will look slightly different. 7 For example, Andrea Miller-Keller, ‘Varieties of influence: Sol LeWitt and thearts community’, pp. 72-87. In: Exh. Cat. Sol LeWitt a retrospective, San Francisco (San Francisco Museum of Modern Art), Chicago (Museum of Contemporary Art), New York (Whitney Museum of American Art), 2000-2001; Ed. Susan Cross, Denise Markonish, Sol LeWitt 100 views, Massachusetts (MASS MoCA), 2009. 48
8 See: http://blog.artdubai.ae/post/151374968061/exclusive-interview-with-the-2017-abraaj-group-art 9 E-mail to the Gemeentemuseum, 18-10-2016. 10 E-mail to the Gemeentemuseum, 21-11 -2016. 11 See: http://www.artspace.com/magazine/interviews_features/artist_to_watch/susan_hefuna-51606 12 Exh. Cat. Esther Tielemans. New Scenes, Venlo (Museum van Bommel van Dam), 2011. 13 E-mail to the Gemeentemuseum, 11-11-2016.
ON ENNO DEVELING AND SOL LEWITT by Jannet de Goede
Ever since 1989, a work by Sol LeWitt (1928-2007), Relief with Geometric Figures (1989), has adorned the facade of the ‘new wing’ of the Gemeentemuseum (nowadays the Museum of Photography/GEM). The artist donated it to the collection of the Gemeentemuseum as a homage to Enno Develing. It marks the lifelong friendship between the illustrious American artist and the modest employee of the Dutch museum. Their friendship began in the mid-1960s when the Gemeentemuseum organized the Minimal Art exhibition, which opened in March 1968. That exhibition not only introduced Minimal Art to a large audience in the Netherlands, but was also the first museum exhibition of Minimal Art anywhere in Europe. The Gemeentemuseum The Hague had a
scoop. Two years later, the museum presented a solo exhibition by LeWitt. The initiator of both exhibitions was Enno Develing (1933-1999), at that time a curator in the Modern Art Department of the museum. Since he started working at the museum in 1966, he had devoted himself to introducing this ‘most important new movement in art’ by organizing the 1968 group show and by inviting individual artists to hold solo exhibitions at the museum. Besides LeWitt, he invited Carl Andre (in 1969) and Robert Smithson (in 1971). Develing had a plan in mind. He saw strong links between his own ideas and conceptions of art and those of the American artists and he thought it was extremely important to bring their work to the attention of the public. He felt a particular affinity 51
with the ideas of LeWitt, as formulated in his ‘Paragraphs on Conceptual Art’ (summer 1967, Artforum) and ‘Sentences on Conceptual Art’ (May 1969, Art-Language).
Europe, events were also moving swiftly. In March 1966, Frank Gribling – writing for Museumjournaal about the new tendencies in sculpture in New York – called LeWitt’s serial sculptures ‘useless and extremely hermetic furniture’. In 1967, the Van Abbemuseum in Eindhoven devoted its third Kompas exhibition to new developments in art in New York and included works by Judd, Morris and Flavin. And in the meantime, in October 1967, LeWitt had introduced himself to collectors Martin and Mia Visser in Bergeijk, presenting a letter of recommendation from Andre. He was actually trying to contact the Nebato manufacturing company in order to ask it to execute works for his forthcoming exhibition at the Konrad Fischer Gallery in Dusseldorf in January 1968.
Besides working as a curator at the Gemeentemuseum, Develing was a published novelist: in 1966 he wrote Voor de soldaten (‘For the Soldiers’), followed in 1968 by De Maagden (‘The Virgins’), and five years later by Het Kantoor (‘The Office’). In 1968 he also published his literary manifesto in a pamphlet called Het einde van de roman (‘The End of the Novel’). Develing saw strong similarities between the artistic philosophy of Minimal Artists and his own writings as a novelist. Like the artists he worked with, he ‘just wanted to provide information (material) that allows the viewer to draw his own conclusions’. He strove to abolish the old-fashioned way of making art and to integrate the new conceptions of science into his work. In his socially motivated conception of art, the artist was to be anti-authoritarian and non-judgmental, presenting information (bare facts) as neutrally as possible.
But the initial idea for the Minimal Art exhibition had already been discussed back in 1964 between Develing and artist Martin Rous. At this stage, only the sculptors Andre, Judd, Robert Morris, LeWitt and Flavin were to be included, together with works by painters Frank Stella, Ad Reinhardt and Larry Poons, and ‘potentially the Stations of the Cross by Barnett Newman’. But in a letter of 22 March 1967, in which the New York gallerist John W. Weber (1932-2008) confirms to the director of the Gemeentemuseum L.J.F. Wijsenbeek (1912-1985) that he will cooperate on the organization of the Minimal Art exhibition, the list no longer includes any painters.
From the moment he was appointed by the Gemeentemuseum in 1966, Develing strove to bring the works of the Americans to the Netherlands. He was well-informed. Although he never travelled to the USA (Develing had a fear of flying), he had read the articles published by Dan Flavin, LeWitt, Donald Judd and other artists, and had seen photos of their work in art magazines like Art International, Art in America and Artforum. The bibliography of The End of the Novel (1968) includes an impressive list of writings by the Americans. In
Weber must have had some influence on the selection of artists. In 1967 he had organized the exhibition 10 at the Virginia Dwan Gallery in New York. This relatively small exhibition is still one of the most 52
important events in the formation of the ‘classical Minimal Art-group’. Dwan showed works by Andre, Jo Baer, Flavin, Judd, LeWitt, Agnes Martin, Morris, Reinhardt, Smithson and Steiner. For the show in The Hague, the painters – Baer, Martin and Reinhardt – were not selected. Their place was taken by Ronald Bladen, Robert Grosvenor and Tony Smith. This shows that Develing and Weber wanted the Minimal Art exhibition to be an introduction to a new way of thinking within the sculptural tradition. The fact that both Weber and Develing used ‘New American Sculpture’ as the working title for the project confirms this.
minute by Wijsenbeek, because it was suspected that Dutch artists would use the event to cause a minor disturbance. They were threatening to occupy the museum in protest at its exhibition programme. And LeWitt’s opening in 1970 was also political tinged when the artist used his introductory speech to demand more participation by local artists in the museum’s programming and acquisitions policies. This prompted the cancellation of the Smithson exhibition in 1971 and, in the end, the departure of Develing from the museum in 1972. In 1981, however, Develing was reappointed as a curator at the Gemeentemuseum. By that time, the tide had turned and the museum was rapidly acquiring works by the ‘Minimalists’. It is indicative of the change of climate that LeWitt was commissioned in 1983 to make a wall drawing (Wall Drawing #373) for one of the staircases of the Berlage building. Develing never concealed his admiration for LeWitt’s work. He owned several drawings and sketches by LeWitt, which he hung on the walls of his office. He never ceased to stress that ‘everybody (should) love the work of LeWitt’. As already mentioned, the good relationship between the artist and the curator was confirmed by LeWitt’s donation of Relief with Geometric Figures in 1989. And, ten years later, shortly after Develing died, LeWitt built Rows in Four Directions and Tower (2002) in the courtyard of the museum in memory of his friend.
According to Develing, the ten artists selected for Minimal Art shared ‘a number of “minimal” principles, such as the lack of any composition or hierarchy of parts, the primary and uncomplicated forms of their structures and the ever different “facet-image” of their objects.’ Most importantly, their work was, in his view, anti-authoritarian, by contrast to the more usual sort of contemporary art which, he said, ‘suppresses the public in a cultural sense as society did in a political sense’. His ideas on art were closely connected with his political views. The director of the Gemeentemuseum gave Develing free rein. After the introductory Minimal Art exhibition, he allowed him to organize the solo exhibitions by Andre and LeWitt. But the openings of all three exhibitions caused problems. Andre was briefly arrested at the vernissage of Minimal Art after he allegedly insulted a visitor who had grabbed an anti-Vietnam button on his jacket. The official opening of Andre’s own solo show in 1967 was cancelled at the last 53
Sol LeWitt (1928-2007) Letter with a proposal for a wall drawing, 1983, black marker on paper, 27,8 x 21,7 cm, Gemeentemuseum Den Haag Sol LeWitt (1928-2007) Postcard to Enno Develing, 1983, Gemeentemuseum Den Haag
MINIMAL ART text by curator Enno Develing as published in the catalogue of the exhibition Minimal Art at the Gemeentemuseum Den Haag, 1968
The term ‘minimal art’, like many other labels applied to various art movements, has given birth to many obvious misunderstandings, which are especially due to the fashionable word minimal. Meanwhile, other labels have been suggested such as rejective art, A.B.C.art, primary structures, literalist art, the cool school, post-cubist sculpture, serial art, etc. However, the works of art in this exhibition have become widely known under the name ‘minimal art’.
no more than a simple personal interference, but, nevertheless, reveal a way of thinking, a state of mind. In many respects this interpretation is not entirely relevant for the minimal art in this exhibition. Here we have a reduction of forms to a primary state, often related to basic structures in geology, physics and chemistry, which do not so much reveal a state of mind, but rather a philosophy or ideology. Minimal art actually has little to do with art in a traditional sense, but more with our rapidly changing world and with the future of our society as suggested by the extremely impotant developments in science and technology. Space, the universe, is replacing the historic position of our earth. In the past the earth has always been the centre for and the aim
The term ‘minimal art’ was used for the first time by Prof. Richard Wollheim in an article (Arts Magazine, January 1965) about Dada (Duchamps) and Neo Dada (Warhol). He used the word ‘minimal’, because these styles of art, holding a minimum of art-value in themselves, very often owe their mere existence to 55
of our explorations, discoveries and operations and also the source of inspiration for all human expression in art. To-day, space and universe occupy this position. Of course, this will mean a complete and profound change in our methods of thought, in philosophy, religion, psychology and everything that used to be part of our old world. Minimal art and also its onvolvement and interest in a technological future, shows certain affinities with Russian Constructivism in the years 19141922. Both movements, though evolved from a completely different background, have at least one principal starting-point in common: an unconditional rejection of the Western classical tradition in art because it belongs to a cultural period which has become history. Art as an isolated and individual expression of beauty, sentiment or whatever other personal emotion or value, is considered to be out of date and reactionnary.
economic as well as the cultural point of view. It is this totality of various changes ans tendencies, which came to a movement like minimal art and to give a new and modern meaning to ignored and almost forgotten old Constructivist ideas. It should be understood that this does not imply that minimal works of art show strong Constructivist elements in a formal sense, but on the contrary, that only their basic conceptions, their ideas about the aim and place of art in society and their complete rupture with any historical tradition are merely a continuation and extension of constructivist ideals. Something like this must have been meant by Robert Morris when he stated (in a letter to Martin Friedman) that minimal art has taken up the tradition of Constructivists like Tatlin, Rodchenko, the early Gabo and De Stijl artist, Vantongerloo. As is to be expected with such a movement, minimal art has an important social and philosophical involvement. In interviews and his writings, Donald Judd has called minimal art anti-rationalistic and anti-hierarchic. Anti-individualistic could be added to those two. European art (including modern artists like Anthony Caro) always has composition as its basic principle. Withing this composition there was a rather pretentious search for beauty, order, logic and other values and at the same time an eye-pleasing display of emotions or sentiment. The work of art was artificially organized according to more or less deterministic rules. Every part had its deliberately chisen place and was secondary to total image. Withing the
The cultural and social conditions in Russia in 1914 and in the United States nos show, with all the enormous differences, a few striking similarities. In both countries a pseudo-culture was imported and copies from Europe. This state of cultural coloniamlism led to a revolution. After a long regression during the thirties and forties into the fifties, Abstract Expressionism was the first movement after Mondrian, Constructivism and Dada to reject the classic European tradition, and since then impulses in art have almost exclusively come from he United States. In fact, to a very large extent, American society has been in continuous movement and development ever since, from the social, political and 56
work there was a strong hierarchy of parts, which, of course was due to the rationalistic and hierarchic aspect of European society.
indissoluble whole. It now appears that this whole, even in its simplest form, does not prove to be as simple as it appears at first sight; because it always presents itself to us in a different way. Depending on the position from which we view the object, we can only see a part of for instance a big rectangular box, and, as our position changes, we see another part. Still, intuitively, we picture the object in our mind as completely rectangular, and we associatively ass to this image the part we do not see. In this way, an important characteristic of minimal arts is the visual absence of something which nevertheless has a physical presence.
All parts of the work of art were secondary to the whole â€“ and in Caroâ€™s case thereis a strong interrelation of parts with the same purpose â€“ which had to be logical in a rationalistic sense. In this way an order, a regularity, a logical coherence and a subordination of parts is suggested, not only in the work of art but in our whole society, which is althogether contradictory to any existing situation in reality, as the sciences have already proved. It means, then, that our complete way of thinking, the conglomeration of philiosophies, religion, social structure and especially our language, is still based upon the largely hierarchic, rationalist and determinist tradtion of the last century. In other words, all these traditions mentioned above have been left so far behind by the rapid developments in science and technology, that a very alarming situation has arisen, which expresses itself among other examples, in the so called generation and communication problems. Minimal art shows, and sometimes rather agressively so, these serious lacks in the development of our society.
In other words, we cannot get a complete and full view of even the simplest and most obvious things. They present themselves to us in different ways, depending on our position, the influence of environment, light, etc. and all we come to see are just a number of different facets of the object, and for each individual even different facets. Thus these objects illustrate a very distinct anti-rationalistic philiosophy, which actually affects all values and conceptions which have always formed the basic ideas of our society. The independence of the parts of a whole is shown, for instance, by a group of four boxes. Each box is exactly the same as the others, nut nevertheless, we see them all differently, depending again on our own position. We see different facets of each individual box though they are exactly similar in size, form and color. Already the effects of light and
Therefore minimal art is only interested in a totality, a whole, and not in an interplay and relationship among parts of the work of art, and not at all in composition. In order to get rid of all compositional effects very simple primary forms are used, which have neither parts nor relationships, but which just form an 57
shadow on each individual box and its place in relation to the environment distuinguishes each individual box from the other similar ones. Together, they form a whole, a totalit which consists of four autonomous independent parts. The artist is only concerned with this collective whole, which implies a sort of anti-individualistic attitude to a certain extent, though each part is completely on its own, independent and not subordinate or secondary to anything. This, together with the important role of environment (in the most extensive sense of the word, which could even mean our whole earts), forms a strong social element in this new art. Many of the objects are meant for a specific environment or have a strong relation to an environment on general (Tony Smithâ€™s sculptures, for instance, to landscape; Bladen and Grosvenor to architecture and Andre and Flavin with specific environments such as a gallery space). The works of art of Flavin and Andre even exist only as such in a gallery or museum. After the exhibition they become ordinary fluorescent tubes and steel sheets again. This search for contact with an or any environment, with works of art sometimes even being completely wrapped up in it, coupled with the fact that this environment is no longer subordinate to the work of art â€“ but on thr contrary the work of art is adapted to the environment in an intellectual way â€“ clearly show the social involvement of minimal art. At the same time this illustrates its quest for integration to a social pattern, its attempt to function within society and the determined rupture of an isolation begun with
the Renaissance. These aspirations are certainly not a vague, artistic utopia. On the contrary, alpha sciences show similar developments as a result of discoveries of beta-sciences and technology, while in the social structure of our complete Western society more or less similar tendences are becoming clearer and clearer. Together with these close ties with society and science ans its involvement with our technological future, this art also has an effect of mystery and uneasiness. Partly this can be explained by a visual absence of things contrasting to a physical presence, but also to puritan simplicity of the forms, and the very cool and clean presentation give the objects a mysterious air. Minimal art objects might even affect space to the extent that a spectator feels himself an intruder. This effect could be compared with the atmosphere evoked by monuments of archaic cultures. When seeing the Pyramids, dolmen or Stonehenge, the spectator is confronted with a comparable feeling of mystery and uneasiness. Furthermore minimal art objects and the monuments have other characteristics in common. Both have an ideological background, with the Pyramids etc. there is a religious involvement with a life after death, and with minimal art there is a relationship to life itself in a very near future. Another quality in common is the very important use of technology in the creation of this minimal art and the Pyramids. The ten artists invited for this exhibition, indivudually have, of course, many different conceptions and ideas. Nevertheless, they share many of the 58
above mentionned [sic.] so called ‘minimal’ principles, that is, their starting-point, the basic ideas form which their art (their work seems a better description) derives and their conceptions of what art should become in this age, are more or less the same. Each one of them in his own way visualizes, or rather gives a form, to the immense changes that take place in the world.
fervently the usual fat inert units of Morris and Judd. Nevertheless they all share a number of important ‘minimal’ principles, such as the lack of any composition or hierarchy of parts, the primary and uncomplicated forms of their structures and the ever different ‘facet-image’ or their objects. Tony Smith has achieved this last element by combining large scale with geometric forms derived from crystal mathematics. This achieves the effect that his sculptures can never be caught in one glance and so they offer a completely different view from all various sides, which clearly is a ‘minimal’ principle. Smits’s sculptures are often said to have organic reminiscences. In an interview Smith indeed said that he sees his sculptures as ‘presences’ in a landscape. In fact this does not stress any organic quality in the sculptures themselves, but on the contrary the organic and natural aspects of a landscape. In the same way as Grosvenor’s and Bladen’s work stress architecture, or even dominate or ridicule it, Smith’s sculptures do this to nature. Moore’s sculptures seem to be part of nature, but Smith’s dominate it, just as man rules nature now. The so-called organic elements in Smith’s work do not come from any existing organism in nature, but they have a relation with modular structures in geology or chemistry. Flavin and Andre deliberately avoid an image in their work, while the substitution of parts plays an important role too. The position of the work of art ans also its individuality is secondary to the individuality of the particular environment for which it is intended. This means that Andre and Flavin begin with, in an art historical
The artists for this exhibition have been chosen because in their work these changes are shown in a most sequential and very clear way. In order to obtain as distinct a view as possible of what minimal art is like and what its purposes are, the choice has been limited to these ten artist [sic.], though it is apparent that this selection is rather arbitrary and additional names could easily be suggested. On the other hand, the selection has almost been as puritannical formalised, within certain possibilities of course, as the minimal artists themselves are in their own work. In spite of this, these ten artists could easily be subdivided into a few groups. Because of their scale, Smith, Bladen and Grosvenor might be called monumentalists, though strictly speaking they are not, at least not in a conventional way. On the other hand, in the case of Flavin and Andre the actual work of art is little more, than an accentuation of an environment (Flavin) or an integrated part of an environment (Andre). Among probably the most puritan minimalists Judd, Morris and LeWitt, the last artist often uses open structures, showing a lack of volume, which contradicts 59
sense, nothing, which can be said of all minimal art. They take a certain situation as a starting point – the gallery space for instance, or the whole earth – and adjust their work of art to it, and allow it to be part of this whole. Thus, by using number structures Andre shows how a certain quantity of plain and simple information – for instance 36 steel sheets of 1 by 1 metre – produces always variable results, and there are always added possibilities for almost anything. Flavin’s ‘proposals’ on the other hand have no structure at all, at least not in a conventional sense, and are created entirely for the environment. In fact they urge one to reflect on our environment, which goes far beyond art into serious social problems. Sol LeWitt, and Michael Steiner too, uses in many cases open structures, though in more recent works they tend to turn to closed volumes. All the same, these open structures have similar effects as the unitary boxes and rectangles, though they might at first sight deliver a more complicated impression. Initially, LeWitt’s structures are just as simple, and consist of open and sometimes closed cubes, which form one undissoluble whole, and still produce varying images for the spectator. Light and shadow effects play a very important role, while the totality of all these simple open cubes surprisingly shows all sorts of remarkable perspectives, overlappings and foreshortenings. The same thing more or less happens with Steiner, who often places his structures against a wall, which creates architectural effects and stresses certain optical elements. Standing precisely before a structure of exactly similar aluminium bars, one sees
each bar on the left or rigth from the centre in a different way. As a result of perspective deciations each bar gives the impression of being different from the other, while they are exactly the same. Robert Smithson perhabs comes closest to the constructivist ideal of the artist-engineer. He is involved as an artist-consultant in the development of a giant air terminal near Fort Worth (Texas). His objects usually are based on conceptions which come from clock maths and mathematical crystal structures and are concerned with changing images such as time, speed and space. In spite of the cool. Impersonal and industrialized appearance of the objects, one can very clearly distuinguish a variety of personal conceptions. This personal differentiation, however, merely expresses itself in another external appearance, and is only concerned with the work of art as an object, not with any feeling or sentiment. The artist’s private personality is completely omitted and is of no relevance at all for his work, because his art illustrates his ideas, conceptions and ideology. Minimal art does not begin with art and minimalize it from there to primary and unitary forms, but it incorporates the present situation, our complete civilisation, everything which is part of our worls, as a staringpoint and constructs something from there, integrated in and forming a whole with the existing situation. (Of course, this does not mean that minimal art would not criticize such a situation, which it does most convincingly). That is why at last one might conclude that minimal art has no historical background. 60
Sol LeWitt (1928-2007) Relief with Geometric Figures, 1989, photo: Gerrit Schreurs, Gemeentemuseum Den Haag
SOL LEWITT A TRIBUTE