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By Stephen V. Kobasa

Into the maze - the shifting from walled in to walled up to walled out, moving through the bands of color as if they were tinted sound. This is the compendium of one hundred and five drawings by Sol LeWitt now on view at MASS MoCa in an exhibit that alters the notion of "temporary" to a scale of twenty-five years.

It deserves the time. And any intent viewer will require it. These are materials for meditation, as once were the melted frescoes of the Campo Santo at Pisa. And as those also were, these are memento mori, legacy and obituary of the dead artist who planned his funerary monument in advance.

Best, then, to offer a mortal commentary in fragments, perhaps for as many years as are granted before one world or another ends?

The sheer number of pieces by LeWitt shown here makes an almost absolute claim on the history of this reconfigured industrial space, although the labor intensive quality of the project necessarily links them to the working past of the building and the memory of older fabrications within it. It discovers itself as site specific for this long moment­ there will never be another such grand configuration.

And it forces the drawings into conversation. What Wall Drawing 614 reveals here is not its identity where it is rendered in the entry space of the Yale University Art Galley in New Haven, even allowing for the necessary variants that accompany its instructions of "Rectangles formed by 3-inch (8 cm) wide India ink bands, meeting at right angles". It is always that; yet always something different.

But the solitude and separation of LeWitt¹s work in other venues, as when his Wall Drawing 725 mirrored and mumbled over Richard Serra's double slabbed Stacks (again at Yale ­ now both removed) are lost here. The jumble (whatever its chronologies) produces a sample book writ large. Each image feels as if it were awaiting adoption.

The gift here is that every one of the works has an imagined existence as well as an actual one ­ looking is composing according to instruction, while not feeling constrained ­ this is LeWitt's particular power as a teacher.

There are associations here, of course; among them Wall Drawing 146A which disassembles late Matisse blue and white cutouts along invisible grids and Wall Drawing 527 with its evocation of an abandoned radar pyramid on a North Dakota field. These are patterns of memory as well as abstraction ­ the world is not that far away.

Except, perhaps, when standing in the fluorescent brilliance between drawings 413 and 414 ­ here is an interrogation room for paradise where you could tell nothing but the truth, by only being asked a question.

All this is fragile, but endlessly repeatable, in spite of the deluge system which waits behind the sprinkler heads to wipe the walls clean.


"Sol LeWitt: A Wall Drawing Retrospective" is on view until 2033 at MASS MoCA, located at 87 Marshall St. in North Adams, MA.

All images are courtesy of the Estate of Sol LeWitt and MASS MoCA.


About Author

Stephen Vincent Kobasa is a writer, curator, and political activist. A previous contributor to Big, Red, & Shiny, he has also been published in Art New England, the New Haven Independent, Artes Magazine, the Hartford Advocate, and the Catholic Worker.

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