I see color bars.


I visited Mass MoCA with Tara a couple of weekends ago. I am only just getting around to writing about it now. And I can't seem to get it done. So I am breaking it into parts. This is part 1. (Part 2 will come along... sometime in the future TBD. How's that for specificity?)

Sol LeWitt: A Wall Drawing Retrospective (ongoing at Mass MoCA)


I'll admit that when we walked up the covered walkway into the Sol LeWitt retrospective at the Mass MoCA I said to Tara, "See, this is the stuff that's hard for me to get into."

We were faced with a wall of painted color blocks. Nothing fancy. Nothing you couldn't do in your home in a few hours time with some blue painter's tape and a little patience. (Not that I have any of those things).
But as we strolled through floors and hallways of color... I changed my mind. The meticulously mapped out "wall drawings" when looked at one after another became overwhelming in a good way. They drew us in (we literally had our noses up to the walls to see the finer details of the lines) and pushed us away. We watched a video that showcased the installation process: It took 65 artists and art students 6 months to install the exhibit by painstakingly following step-by step instructions (like the image below) and will be available on view for 25 years (2033, when the world will be ruled by robots).
It's hard for me to explain what it feels like to walk through this exhibit and wonder about the artistic madness? genius? extreme OCD tendencies turned into art? that linger behind each drawing. The best description of it is from the Mass MoCA write up:
As the exhibition makes clear, these straightforward instructions yield an astonishing—and stunningly beautiful—variety of work that is at once simple and highly complex, rigorous and sensual. The drawings in the exhibition range from layers of straight lines meticulously drawn in black graphite pencil lead, to rows of delicately rendered wavy lines in colored pencil; from bold black-and-white geometric forms, to bright planes in acrylic paint arranged like the panels of a folding screen; from sensuous drawings created by dozens of layers of transparent washes, to a tangle of vibratory orange lines on a green wall, and much more. Forms may appear to be flat, to recede in space, or to project into the viewer’s space, while others meld to the structure of the wall itself.
Overall, I found myself happily surprised by how much I liked the labyrinths of color that we spent so much time exploring (and wondering "have we been here already?" as things started looking the same... yet different... but also the same again).

Then comes the big question (it always has to sneak in there, the eternal naysayer whispering in my ear): Is this art?

Sol LeWitt didn't come in and install these himself (he passed away a few months before work began), but he left a series of instructions that anyone could follow, much like a composer writes music for anyone to play. In a former life, when I preferred the classics over our contemporaries, I'd probably scoff at something like this because it tends to irk me when people make a big deal over art that anyone could do. But after walking through the halls of this exhibit, I can't help but wonder if I have been wrong all of these years.

Sure, each wall is generally made up of boxes filled with lines filled with color, but something about the composition of it all, the extreme pattern (or complete lack of pattern) makes the collection as a whole nothing short of mesmerizing. And isn't that art? Something that is so enchanting and hypnotizing that it can draw even the most skeptic of viewers into its lair? If so, it works for me.

2 comments:

  1. tom and i went to MassMoCA while we were on our honeymoon in western mass earlier this year. i thought i would hate the exhibit, too (because my rule generally is, "if i can do it, it's not art") but i didn't. i loved it, too. i am a sucker for color in bright swaths (sp?) like that. plus, we had great fun taking action shots of each other in midair doing rock 'n' roll jumps in front of the walls :)

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  2. pretty much everyone i know feels the same way. who knew large walls of color could be so amazing?

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