Lines, Numbers, and Colors by Matt Fajkus, AIA
“Space can be thought of as the cubic area occupied by a three-dimensional volume. It is the interval between things that can be measured, and the intervals and measurements are important.” — Sol LeWitt The University of Texas at Austin’s Landmarks program recently procured a pair of works by Sol LeWitt and a new “Skyspace” by James Turrell — impressive additions to an already respectable collection. The first Sol LeWitt piece, “Circle with Towers,” was cleverly sited by Landmarks Director Andree Bober at the Speedway entrance of the new Bill & Melinda Gates Computer Science Complex, designed by Pelli Clark Pelli. It commands prominence as part of the building’s entry procession. Composed of concrete masonry units forming a low, circular wall at seating level with eight protruding vertical elements, the sculpture, or “structure,” as LeWitt referred to his threedimensional pieces, will become an increasingly interactive object once the vehicular asphalt on Speedway is replaced with a pedestrian corridor. LeWitt’s works, particularly structures such as “Circle with Towers,” reach beyond the typical realm of sculpture and may be interestingly compared to architecture. Each structure comes with a set of instructions for assembly, akin to an
architect’s construction documents, with explicit sequential operations, building materials, and methods — all to be constructed within narrow tolerances. The instructions enable the work to be reproduced in various locations by approved craftsmen and overseen by the entity Sol LeWitt Structures. (In this case, Jeremy Ziemann was charged with the oversight.) Tectonics are thus invariably considered as a part of the creative artistic process, and, as with most of LeWitt’s work, this structure takes the form of an abstracted Platonic shape. The work departs from architecture in its lack of obvious utility. Function and literal meaning are removed, inviting the viewer to consider it in more abstract terms, such as its scale in relation to the human body. Through rigorous conceptualization and organization of simple forms, LeWitt went on to create a taxonomy of form in his work, establishing a critical language for a generation of contemporary artists. One of the more powerful aspects of LeWitt’s structures is the use of minimal means to create maximum
effect, which is arguably the goal of architecture at its finest. The second LeWitt piece constructed by UT Austin, “Wall Drawing #520: Tilted forms with color ink washes superimposed,” is located on a series of three walls of the north building of the Gates complex, the Dell Computer Science Hall. The title of the work itself could very well be part of the actual specification document from which it was generated. When viewed in architectural
LeWitt’s sculpture is inextricably linked to its physical make-up and tectonic narrative, while Turrell’s piece is only interested in tectonics to the extent that it ensures that the piece disappears. “CIRCLE WITH TOWERS” COURTSEY THE UNIVERSITY OF TEXAS AT AUSTIN. PHOTO BY MARK MENJIVAR. DETAILS OF “THE COLOR INSIDE.” COURTSEY THE UNIVERSITY OF TEXAS AT AUSTIN. PHOTO BY PAUL BARDAGJY. WALL DRAWINGS COURTESY OF THE ESTATE OF SOL LEWITT. PHOTOS BY MARK MEJIVAR.
20 Texas Architect