There are many elements involved in a work of art. The most important are the most obvious.—Sol Lewitt, from Sentences on Conceptual Art (1969)
Fraenkel Gallery is pleased to present the exhibition Sol LeWitt: Photographic Works 1968–2004. Comprised of approximately twenty objects, and made possible with the cooperation of the LeWitt Estate, this is the first gallery exhibition to focus solely on the artist’s investigations with photography.
Sol LeWitt (1928–2007) is widely recognized as one of the most influential artists of the last half-century. Though perhaps best known for his wall drawings and “structures” (the term he preferred to “sculpture”), LeWitt also made an important, highly original body of work in photography that spanned the course of his career.
Central to LeWitt’s approach to photography was the concept that the artist need not always make the photographs himself. His “cut-outs” from the 1970s, for example, began with commercially made aerial photographs of cities important to the artist, especially New York and Florence. In Part of Manhattan with Central Park, Rockefeller Center and Lincoln Center Removed (1978), LeWitt excised with a mat knife three Manhattan landmarks, resulting in a jarring photographic object that prompts the viewer to reconsider the materiality of an urban landscape.
The earliest work in the exhibition, Buried Cube Containing an Object of Importance But Little Value (1968), presents a grid of nine black & white photographs of the artist’s friends apparently digging a grave and burying a small wooden box. The photographs themselves—the physical representation of a conceptual act performed more than 35 years ago—have become the work of art.
Eadweard Muybridge’s 19th-century photographic studies of human and animal locomotion were a catalyst for LeWitt’s investigation of serial systems. The debt is evident in Brick Wall (1977), comprised of 30 black and white photographs of, as the title suggests, a brick wall. The assumption made by the viewer is that the wall has been photographed at regular intervals during the day from dawn to dusk; although, the gradual light changes seem artificial and perhaps more reminiscent of a predetermined tonal progression. Other multi-part works in the exhibition include Clouds (1978), a grid of 54 mounted color photographs, and Grid of Grids (1976), 64 mounted photographs of grates, drains, tiles, skylights, and other grids that can be found in the course of a day.
The final work in the exhibition is A Sphere Lit From the Top, Four Sides, and All Their Combinations (2004). The title prescribes the process (LeWitt did not take the photographs himself) for making twenty-eight photographs of a sphere. The resulting photographs are arranged in a grid four high and seven wide, beginning with the featureless sphere starkly lit from the top, and ending with the sphere brightly lit from every direction. Each photograph documents a specific state of illumination while becoming part of an abstract narrative as the artist’s plan is executed.
Sol LeWitt’s work can be found in the collections of most serious museums of modern and contemporary art. His career was the subject of a major traveling retrospective organized by the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art in 2000.