Artwork in Focus: Three drawings by Sol LeWitt

  • Artwork in Focus is the second chapter of the gallery’s In Focus series. Every week the gallery presents a viewing room featuring artworks available for sale. This week we are presenting three drawings by Sol LeWitt: Grids, Circles, Arcs From Four Sides and Four Corners (15 December 1971), Drawing for Incomplete Open Cube 9/13 (1973) & Drawing for Incomplete Open Cube 9/9 (1973).

     

    Sol LeWitt was one of the key figures in the establishment of Minimalist and Conceptual art during the second half of the 20th century. While devoted to building his artistic career and consolidating an original aesthetic, LeWitt engaged with simple ideas and geometric shapes, such as quadrilaterals, circles, triangles, and lines. Throughout his career, the artist experimented both with colour and its absence, developing from his early rigorous monochrome compositions and installations to his late recognisable polychromatic visual ensembles. Most of LeWitt's production was based on ideas that could materialise or be executed through specific instructions. “Conceptual art is not necessarily logical,” Sol LeWitt wrote in an article in Artforum magazine in 1967. “The ideas need not be complex. Most ideas that are successful are ludicrously simple. Successful ideas generally have the appearance of simplicity because they seem inevitable.”

  • Sol LEWITT 1928 - 2007 Grids, Circles, Arcs From Four Sides and Four Corners 15 December 1971 Ink on paper...
    Sol LEWITT
    1928 - 2007
    Grids, Circles, Arcs From Four Sides and Four Corners
    15 December 1971
    Ink on paper
    28.6 x 28.6 cm (11 ¼ x 11 ¼ in)
  • In the work Grids, Circles, Arcs From Four Sides and Four Corners (1971), the action and elements required to create the drawing are described by LeWitt in the title. In fact, the work is the result of the intersection of these four geometric elements when each of the four corners and four sides of the perfectly square sheet of paper are used as a starting point for the composition. Hypnotic and rhythmic, the illusory effect creates rippling and rotating patterns emerging from the precise graphic lines made by the ink on the paper. The result is a spectacular display of skill and mathematical precision, made all the more beautiful and intriguing through its existence as a hand-drawn artwork.

     

    The work is evocative of some of the large scale ‘wall drawings' produced by LeWitt in the following years, in which circle and arc patterns would dominate entire wall surfaces, creating strong visual compositions. This drawing was included in the artist book Sol Lewitt. Arcs, from corners & sides, circles, & grids and all their combinations published by Kunsthalle Bern and Paul Bianchini in 1972, produced on occasion of the artist's exhibition hosted by the Swiss institution in the same year. 

  • Sol LEWITT 1928 – 2007 Drawing for Incomplete Open Cube 9/13, 1973 Ink on paper Unique variant out of 122...
    Sol LEWITT

    1928 – 2007

    Drawing for Incomplete Open Cube 9/13, 1973
    Ink on paper
    Unique variant out of 122 possibilities
    Signed lower centre "Sol"
    28 x 21.5 cm
    11 ⅛ x 8 ½ in
  • Sol LEWITT 1928 – 2007 Drawing for Incomplete Open Cube 9/9, 1973 Ink on paper Unique variant out of 122...
    Sol LEWITT
    1928 – 2007
    Drawing for Incomplete Open Cube 9/9, 1973
    Ink on paper
    Unique variant out of 122 possibilities
    Signed lower centre "Sol"
    28 x 21.5 cm
    11 ⅛ x 8 ½ in
  • These two drawings are preparatory works for the artwork Incomplete Open Cubes (1974), which consists of a series of 122 structures. Each structure represents a cube with some edges removed, and thus 'incomplete' and 'open', but always leaving the composition three-dimensional and connected. Two different structure combinations are considered to be the same if one could be transformed into the other with a space rotation (excluding reflection). This project embodies the interest LeWitt had in seriality, and exemplifies the artist’s tendency to engage with mathematical and geometrical concepts. As seen throughout his practice, LeWitt followed the principle in which ‘the idea is the machine that makes the art’, intertwining artistic creation with the lexicon of combinatorics. 

  • The two drawings are unique works: the numbers appearing in their titles were introduced by LeWitt to specify which open...

    The two drawings are unique works: the numbers appearing in their titles were introduced by LeWitt to specify which open cube he had drawn with a certain number of edges. For example 9/9 stands for the nine segments used in the ninth possible combination. The two works on view are both circled in the diagram "Variations of Complete Open Cubes", which shows all 122 combinations.

     

    When LeWitt started working on this project, he did not fully realise the complexity or scale of his mission. However, as the project progressed, he became determined to explore and represent all the possible combinations of the ‘open cube’. The artist explained after completing the project: “In the first place, I thought it’d be so easy that it wouldn’t be necessary. Secondly, I did not know any mathematician to ask. Thirdly, it was a kind of challenge to be able to do it and to work it all out. It got to be a game or a puzzle that I wanted to solve”. 

     

    To operate efficiently, the artist compiled a full list of incomplete cubes following the variations of the number of edges of the structures. In order to prevent any repetition, LeWitt created a small three-dimensional model of each variation. Eventually, LeWitt’s final list of structures was approved by the mathematics scholars Erna Herrey and Arthur Babakhanian.

  • Biography
     

    Sol LeWitt was born in Hartford, Connecticut in 1928, to a family of Russian immigrants. He studied art at Syracuse University, before being drafted to the Korean War in 1951, during which he made posters for the Special Services. After the war, LeWitt moved to New York to study illustration and cartooning. Around the same time, he started a job at the book counter at the Museum of Modern Art. There his colleagues were other young artists, including Dan Flavin, Robert Ryman and Robert Mangold, who with him would later become the founders of Minimalism. LeWitt became fascinated with Russian Constructivism, and with Eadweard Muybridge’s photographs representing people and animals in motion. Thanks to his casual encounters and chosen influences, by the early 1960s LeWitt had developed his unique approach to making art. LeWitt died in New York in 2007. Today, his works are held in the collections of the Art Institute of Chicago, the National Gallery of Art in Washington, D.C., the Dia Art Foundation in Beacon, New York, the Walker Art Center in Minneapolis and the Tate Gallery in London, UK.