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Something Along Those Lines

“Something Along Those Lines" is formed loosely around Sol LeWitt’s Wall Drawing #118. His piece, as explained thoroughly in both the wall text and the press release, has close ties to the SMFA. As the story goes, in 1971 LeWitt was invited to give a lecture but instead he opted to work directly with the School’s students on a new piece. The drawing, composed of “fifty randomly placed points all connected by straight lines,” was his first in Boston and 40 years later has been installed, again with the help of the college’s students. Its re-installation is the motivating force and conceptual anchor behind the rest of the exhibition, a somewhat undersold and cobbled-together showing of individually strong work. Where the ICA’s "Dance/Draw" successfully chose to focus on drawing’s formal aesthetics in relation to dance in an well woven four-section shift from nontraditional mark-making to the incorporation of movement in visual art, this exhibition chose to tackle an overview of contemporary art’s vast use of drawing which only served to make the space feel smaller and bring to mind missed opportunities.

Sol LeWitt Drawing 118 - Time Lapse from SMFA on Vimeo.
Though LeWitt’s drawing is clearly intended to be the heart of the exhibition, dear to the institution and impressive in its execution, it hangs a bit like a cloud over the other work—as the anchor it relegates the rest of the art to a supporting role. Some pieces were able to break beyond this for me, most notably Ann Carlson and Mary Ellen Strom’s video Four Parallel Lines (2007). Made in collaboration with the four hired day laborers featured, the men each drag a plank of wood along a beach shore and eventually out of frame. Over time, effulgent white waves lap over their drawings and obscure any progress. Having theirs as the first piece as you enter was a superb curating decision but then, looking to my left to see the LeWitt, it became hard to see past the relationships these pieces have to the institution (Strom is SMFA faculty) and not want to read like connections into the other work.

Upon seeing Felix Gonzalez-Torres’ “Untitled” (1990) I forgot all of that. It was the most immediately arresting sculptural work displayed and one of the few whose content went beyond the formal concerns. The piece, consisting of three stacks of paper on the floor with each page carrying an identical blue line, has only been exhibited a handful of times since being made so I was ecstatic to see it. Torres began making his paper stacks in 1989, deriving their clean geometric forms from minimalist sculpture and enticing the viewer to interact with the piece by taking a sheet. They, like so much of his work, are premised on an entropic potential which render the sculptures both intimate and vulnerable and recalls the artist’s loss of his partner, Ross, to AIDS.

The shadow that I originally felt cast on the other pieces from LeWitt–the one that compelled me to find connections between the works that go beyond the formal aesthetic of lines—diminished with Torres, partly because Torres sculptures carry with them their own gravity, a sort of communal devastation. And other than the previously mentioned works and one other, Walking in an Exaggerated Manner around the Perimeter of a Square (1967-68) by Bruce Nauman, none stood out or seemed to illustrate the exploratory nature of contemporary drawing in quite the same way.

This is by no means a bad showing of work. As I said, each piece is a great representation of the individual artists. But together the work just failed to feel equally weighted or ever coalesce into something other than a group show. For the institution, the exhibition should be seen as a great success, if only for the excellent opportunity to educate its student body about its past and to engage a few of them in the installation of the LeWitt. But as someone who stumbled upon the show on a weekend afternoon, it left me wanting more, even if the Torres take-home was a pretty good day’s work.

Something Along Those Lines on view at the School of the Museum of Fine Arts' Barbara and Steven Grossman Gallery from September 13–November 3, 2012.

About Author

Brian is an artist, educator and Boston-native and is the Managing Editor of BR&S, coordinating the editorial activities of the publication. He has a BFA from Tulane University in New Orleans and his MFA in Sculpture from MassArt. Brian is also an Assistant Lecturer and the Instructional Media Specialist for the Sculpture and Digital Media disciplines at the University of Massachusetts Boston.

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