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During the 1960s, Sol LeWitt helped formulate the tenets of a burgeoning conceptual art movement by arguing that the concept behind a work of art was more important than its execution. His instructions-based conceptual practice proposed a very different model of artistic authorship, one that was defined by an artist’s ideas, not by the personal touch or mark of the artist’s hand. In providing a set of instructions for others to carry out, LeWitt likened his role as an artist to that of an architect or composer. He drafted compositions that could exist in more than one place at once and could be realized by others in the same way that many different musicians can play a Bach sonata.
Although LeWitt is best known for the numerous wall drawings he made during his lifetime, when asked once about inventing the medium, the artist drolly replied: “I think the cavemen came first.” Unlike their predecessors, however, LeWitt’s wall drawings do not exist as permanent objects but rather as a diagram and set of instructions.
During the 1980s, LeWitt produced many jewel-toned, ink-wash wall drawings like Wall Drawing #520, dramatically expanding his repertoire from the pencil versions that predominated the first decade of his career. In this work—one of the few that the artist conceived for three walls—cubes float across the surface in rich, variegated colors. The palette and slight depth of the geometric figures attest to the artist’s interest in Italian Renaissance frescoes, one that was spurred by the artist’s move to Spoleto, Italy, in 1980.
While these works depart from the more muted palette and systematic logic of LeWitt’s early pencil wall drawings, they also reflect his continued interest in using the cube as a basic geometric element. Equally significant are the the tonal variations achieved in LeWitt’s ink wash wall drawings, which result from layering only primary colors and gray. While the spirit of Wall Drawing # 520 is one of modesty, simplicity, and restraint, the visual results are lush.
Drawn by: Michael Abelman, Rachel Houston, Gabriel Hurier, Eileen Lammers, Clint Reams, Jon Shapley, Patrick Sheehy
First Installation: Whitney Museum of American Art, New York, April 1987
First Drawn by: Catherine Clarke, Douglas Geiger, David Higginbotham, Anthony Sansotta, Patricia Thornley, and Jo Watanabe
Collection of The LeWitt Estate
Location: North building of The Bill & Melinda Gates Computer Science Complex & Dell Computer Science Hall (GDC)
GPS: 30.286264, -97.736864