Art media

Massachusetts Museum of Contemporary Art rejuvenates Sol LeWitt’s wall drawings

The Massachusetts Museum of Contemporary Art (Mass Moca) has embarked on a major curatorial project to rejuvenate the wall drawings in its long-running retrospective dedicated to the late conceptual artist Sol LeWitt. The panoramic installation of 105 large-scale drawings the artist designed as diagrams between 1969 and 2007 spans nearly an acre and three stories of a 19th-century mill on the museum’s campus in North Adams, Massachusetts.

LeWitt worked in sculpture and other media before he began creating wall drawings in the late 1960s, unveiling the premiere of the inaugural exhibition at the Paula Cooper Gallery in New York in 1968, an exhibition to benefit causes anti-Vietnam War which also featured minimal abstract works by Donald. Judd, Dan Flavin, Carl André and others.

After designing the wall designs, LeWitt hired other artists to execute the works, which are translated onto the wall from specific geometric combinations that the artist described through precise but simple instructions.

“One of the things that we think perpetuated the wall designs was LeWitt’s contribution to Seth Siegelaub. Xerox Book (1968) and the idea of ​​this democratic effort to endlessly disperse the works,” explains Susan Cross, the museum’s senior curator, who curated the retrospective.

The Mass Moca wall drawings were made posthumously in 2008 as a collaboration between the museum, the LeWitt Estate, over 60 artists, the Williams College Museum of Art, and the Yale University Art Gallery.

Sol LeWitt, Wall drawing 692 (1991) © Estate of Sol LeWitt/Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York.

The retrospective can be seen until 2043, but conservation issues have arisen over the past 14 years. Environmental factors in the museum’s sun-drenched galleries present a set of challenges, and the lead and graphite used in the original drawings were “not of adequate caliber”, according to John Hogan, the artist’s principal draftsman since 1982. and facility manager. and Archivist for LeWitt’s Wall Drawings at Yale University Art Gallery. “LeWitt wanted materials that were accessible, affordable, practical and ubiquitous across the world,” he adds.

“The estate has had the materials made specifically now and through micro-discoloration testing we can say these are the most stable on the market today, lasting up to 25 years,” he adds. -he.

Many of the wall designs LeWitt designed during his career have also never been varnished and have more recently been treated with water-based varnishes and UV filtration.

Eight of the museum’s 105 drawings are being restored and some will be completely erased and redrawn, including Wall drawing #1211a 24-unit grid designed in the 1970s that was first installed at Dia Beacon in 2006. The artwork was damaged, with several stains and discolored areas compromising LeWitt’s standards and vision for the artwork.

The two draftsmen leading the restoration of Wall drawing #1211, Lacey Fekishazy and Roland Lusk, have worked with LeWitt’s studio (and now his estate) for decades. “I don’t know if I would call it a restoration; we redo whole drawings, while there are other parts that need to fix a place or clean it up,” says Lusk. “There are two different ways to do this: you can fix what’s there or just paint over it.”

Sol LeWitt, Wall Drawing #1211. Courtesy of the Massachusetts Museum of Contemporary Art.

A forward-looking perspective

The project involves about six assistants, some of whom are recent Williams and Yale graduates. “These people, if we’re lucky, get inspired by the process and made to want to work on the designs,” Hogan says. “At this point, very few people are doing the work that even knew Sol. It’s one of the generational continuums of the play.

At this point, there are very few people working on these designs who even knew Sol

John Hogan, Senior Writer for LeWitt

The process will be documented so that “the information can be passed on to future generations; even 100 years from now there will be a benchmark,” Hogan says. “There are all these criteria that go into understanding these paintings: how to restore them, how to find traditional materials and how they are executed, all from an almost scientific perspective.”

Hogan worked on and saved several wall drawings. “The first time you do it, you’re nervous and uncomfortable, then the second time you assess your mistakes, hone your skills,” he says. “Ultimately, one of the things that all long-term cartoonists come to fall back on is LeWitt’s notion of musical composition and musical interpretation, or the performative aspect of the work.”

The more than 1,300 wall drawings LeWitt made during his lifetime were first fully identified as part of research for a catalog raisonné published in 2018. Some of them had been documented but not properly photographed and have redone as part of the project.

The full conservation of Mass Moca’s wall drawings is expected to be completed this month. The project has a budget of $250,000 granted by an anonymous donor to cover labour, materials, accommodation, documentation and related programming. The ongoing care and conservation of the wall designs is also supported by philanthropist Agnes Gund.