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Sol LeWitt - Why is this art!?
When museums went online: a guided tour of world galleries’ online online.

Sol LeWitt – Why is this art!?

Just as Pablo Picasso challenged realistic forms of presenting a human and Vincent van Gogh revolutionized colour, Sol LeWitt pushed the boundaries and definition of what constitutes art. His art focused on the concept of art rather than the physical craft of making art objects. Working as a night receptionist at the Museum of Modern Art let him become friends with future art critic Lucy Lippard and artists Dan Flavin, Robert Mangold, and Robert Ryman. And he was introduced to the work of artists such as Robert Rauschenberg, Frank Stella and Jasper Johns, who influenced his later career. Admiring their art made the young LeWitt think that an idea behind an artwork was more significant than its material form.

In 1967, in his essay Paragraphs on Conceptual Art, LeWitt claimed, “When an artist uses a conceptual form of art, it means that all the planning and decisions are made beforehand, and the execution is a perfunctory affair.” Abandoning the belief that the role of an artist is to be a craftsman, he decided to approach art from a different angle. He was guided by the idea that creative thoughts in the head are more important than products made by hand. “The idea,” he said, “becomes the machine that makes the art”.

If art is a creative human activity that stimulates emotionally and intellectually, then Sol LeWitt’s works are most certainly art. They make us question the things we’ve been taught by history and allow us to experience colours, spaces, and structures differently. All famous artists have been remembered because they were creating something new and very often incomprehensible to their contemporaries.

LeWitt’s Wall Drawings – They look easy, but they are not.

Detail Of Sol LeWitt’s 1971 Wall Drawing #65 At The National Gallery Of Art (Washington, DC)

The creative works of this artist can be compared to the work of an architect or composer. They give rise to magnificent structures and songs, but without workers and musicians, these great ideas could not be experienced by an audience. Sol LeWitt’s Wall Drawings could not be admired by the audience if it weren’t for other artists and museum staff who install them. The Wall Drawings are site-specific installations that begin as instructions written by LeWitt and are then executed by others. In consequence, every mural will be different as it will be prepared in a different place by different people. While the drawings often appear simple, preparations take up to a few months, and the process involves many precise calculations, planning, and specialised equipment. 

Watch this video to see how the Wall Drawings are created.

Sol LeWitt designed more than 1,250 Wall Drawings that raise a lot of controversies. Whenever museums and collectors acquire a Wall Drawing, they receive a certificate with LeWitt’s instructions for the creation of the mural, but many questions arise: What is the actual work of art here? Is it the painting on a wall? The piece of paper with instructions? Or is it the intangible idea itself? Adding to the complexity, the drawings on the walls are ephemeral: most of them are exhibited only temporarily in a gallery or museum and then simply painted over, but the intangible idea of the drawing remains immutable. That is also why LeWitt’s art is so different. Very often, the way we view artists’ works change when curators present them with a different narrative. The reading of the Wall Drawings will always remain the same because their feature is that they will always be drawn or painted in a different way by someone else. 

Wall drawing by Sol LeWitt.

According to the artist, Conceptual Art is “made to engage the mind of the viewer rather than his eye or emotions”. I look at LeWitt’s Conceptual Art as another step in art history. From idealized ancient sculptures, breath-taking paintings in the vaults of basilicas, and inspirational political posters and collages, Sol LeWitt asks us to rethink everything we know about art, not only as the end product of many years of painting and sculpting practice, but also as ideas, philosophies, and beliefs.

View of the Gallery 2 of the Centre Pompidou-Metz during the 2012 Sol LeWitt retrospective exhibition, Wall drawings from 1968 to 2007, Metz, France,_Metz.jpg

If you would like to learn more about Sol LeWitt’s life and his other artworks, you can read it on The Art Story website.

Written by Zofia Nowakowska, Student Ambassador for The Art Story. I recently, graduated with a BA Fine Art from Anglia Ruskin University, Cambridge. I’m passionate about conceptual and socially-engaged art, and my research focuses on the impact of digitalisation on the art world.

When museums went online: a guided tour of world galleries’ online online.

As buildings around the world started to lock their doors last March, and the public turned to the internet to provide yoga classes, at-home gigs, and sour dough recipes, many art galleries also started finding ways to share their collections virtually. Suddenly we had the opportunity to explore collections from museums across the world from our own homes. Here I share a list of some of my favourite lockdown finds, to which I expect to return, even as galleries re-open. The list is skewed towards the larger international museums with the resources to produce such high quality content. Furthermore, it is highly digested, so I recommend falling down your own rabbit hole of online culture.

Offering #1: Virtual Tours

View from the Rijksmuseum –

Through the Google Arts and Culture programme, some major museums now offer virtual tours of their collections. I find the street-view style interface tricky to navigate, however, and the artworks difficult to connect with. Some have launched their own interactive virtual tours with more success. The Rijksmuseum’s Masterpieces Up Close project is limited to the most famous of its paintings, but is nonetheless impressive. Virtual visitors click and drag their way through the museum, stopping to listen to audio-guide style descriptions of the collection. Highlights include Johannes Vermeer’s The Milkmaid (c. 1660), and a brilliant presentation on Rembrandt’s The Night Watch (1642). Some of the sound effects may be more creepy than immersive, but there is a genuine pleasure in being able to explore a museum at one’s own pace again.

Also worth a look is the British Museum’s virtual offering. The graphics encourage random picking and choosing of objects, but the thoughtful links to other objects and colour-coded themes keep the visitor moving seamlessly.

Offering #2: YouTube Curator Presentations

A great place to start is London’s National Gallery’s channel. Not only does it have an impressive back catalogue of educational offerings, but the gallery’s team has been busy uploading quality content since the beginning of lockdown. Their series ‘A curated look at…’ is a particular highlight. For around 15 minutes, a curator will discuss several of the gallery’s pictures on one theme, while the camera zooms in on the brushwork.

Another lovely series is the ‘Five minute meditations’. As the title suggests, these are quick guided meditations that begin with breath control à la the popular Headspace app. They then move into a mindful examination of a work of art, encouraging you to lose yourself in the paintwork. Mindfulness may or may not be your thing, but I do encourage you to full-screen the video and pull on some headphones for these. In this video, based on JMW Turner’s ‘Rain, Steam and Speed (1844)’, the camera pulls out details that I had never noticed, taking the viewer nose to nose with the canvas.  

If you have half an hour to spare, years’ worth of recorded lectures are also available from the national gallery. These sit the viewer in front of one of the gallery’s most popular paintings, always well-presented by top art historians.

The Met Museum in New York has also gone back to its archives to engage a lockdown audience.  The series From the Vaults ranges from a silent 1928 behind-the-scenes film to 1980s documentaries. They are well worth a browse.

Offering #3: Online Exhibitions

More victims of lockdown were the temporary exhibitions, which galleries were forced to close. The curators of the Ashmolean Museum’s Young Rembrandt exhibition in Oxford, England, were quick to respond. Here, curator An Van Camp introduces the collection, alongside an excellent online guide.

Unmissable too is the National Gallery of Victoria’s virtual rendering of its recent Keith Haring | Jean-Michel Basquiat: Crossing Linesexhibition. Their bold graphic art lends itself well to the virtual space, and the program is easy to navigate.

Honorary Mentions:

Though I do not think that any of these resources can fully replace the physical experience of wandering a gallery and getting nose to nose with the artwork, I expect that museums will continue to explore these virtual display cases. They are a great opportunity to expand their worldwide presence, not to mention improving art access and education. I am now looking forward to returning to these galleries with new insight found while lockdown culture surfing.

I’m Teresa Macnab, and I am acting as a Student Ambassador for the second cohort @ The Art Story this summer. I have just graduated from the University of St Andrews with a degree in Classics, during which I took as many art history modules as possible! I’m interested in the interaction between literary and art history to tell stories, particularly in the ancient world.