_ Irrational logic
The hugely inﬂuential artist, Sol LeWitt, has a major retrospective exhibition currently showing at The Fruitmarket Gallery. Caroline Ednie assesses his work.
As darling of the trendy, cerebral Lisson/Saatchi Gallery set and venerany name-checked by aspirational aesthetes in the odd Woody Allen film or two, Sol LeWitt is one of those people who in artistic terms at least, ‘has got it all'.
LeWitt is one of Conceptualism and Minimalism’s main men, and is responsible for bringing us, among other things. the cube. the whole cube and nothing but the cube. This he adopted as the primary unit for his three dimensional structures which, together with wall drawings, are the two uistinct but related forms his work has taken since his first exhibition in New York in 1967. The fascination for his forms continues to endure which may be due in no small part, to the paradoxes they contain.
LeWitt’s work is at the same time reductive and expansive, radical and traditional, elegant and industrial, even black and white. His structures, usually fabricated by assistants from instructions or diagrams supplied by the artist, essentially exploit the contrast between conceptual order and visual disorder. Open Geometric Sculptures 1—4 (1990) is
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one example of the result of a logically, ‘ludicrously simple’ idea. But because of the effects of perspective, the cast shadows and the way the parts of the frame overlap, they are perceptually extremely complex. ‘lrrational thoughts should be followed
. through absolutely logically and rationally,’ wrote
LeWitt in his now famous ‘Sentences on Conceptual Art'.
LeWitt shares with Conceptual and Minimalist artists a resistance to the rhetoric of spontaneity and intense subjectivity, the hallowed ground occupied by the Abstract Expressionists who dominated American art in the 40s and 50s. Yet he does not wholly subscribe to the suppression of representation in favour of objectness, the ‘what you see is what you see’ ideology so beloved of Minimalists like Frank Stella and Donald Judd; nor does he indulge in the privileging of ‘idea’ over ‘execution’ as endorsed by the card carrying Conceptual artists of the time, among them Joseph Kosuth and On Kawara. LeWitt has always in his work relished the ambiguity between concept and object.
As a result of this ambivalence and ambiguity, the artist’s work has been considered as implying a break
from artistic tradition. Let us not forget, however, that this is the same man who once admitted, ‘1
-would like to produce something I would not be
ashamed to show Giotto’. in fact many see LeWitt‘s early work as giving more than a passing nod in the direction of the Bauhaus and Constructivism, and his modular work of the 60s has links with the principles of equivalence, previously explored by artists of the modern European tradition such as Mondrian. which formed an attempt to abolish hierachy from painting. The exhibition includes recent open pyramids and structures, keyworks such as Muybrt'dge (1965) the artist's hommage to the rapid-fire time-lapse studies of Edward Muybn'dge. as well as wall drawings which prove that less, on occasion. does in fact equal more. Sol LeWitt has become synonymous with pure, white, mainly cubic form and not without good reason. is he also perhaps the last great exponent of the last great ideological movements in art? Who knows? One thing is for sure. he need not be too ashamed to show even Giotto this body of work. The $01 LeWitt Retrospective is at The F ruitmarket Gallery front Fri 12 Nov—8 Jan.
:— Float on
‘You cannot step in the sane river twice,’ wrote lleraclitus in 500 BC. Thousands of years later photographer Jeni Southam makes the same point in hisshow,TheiialtolCanot.The images of the South West England collected here are no rural idylls; they are infused with death, decay and show the tampering of man. But they capture with breath-taking clarity the constant revolution and conflict In the
very wet to find the most intimate frame. Taken with a short depth of focus, the images are often textures with areas of detail. Brilliant colours are set against sombre tones to give the work weight and a tangible quality. immediater involving, these large photographs are beautiful and uncompromising, honest yet disturbing, abstract and dynamic. The most effective pieces are a series of images of a river. The water changes in nature from a grey lonnless mass, to a submerging, heaving torrent fringed with froth, then a flat algae-covered bright green
natural world. . .‘f " _ plane.
The photographs were all taken 553 - Concerned with the spiritual, the during walks in the countryside near . » “t _,..<.. environmental and the moral, the artist's home in Exeter. Sondra = * ' Southan’s images are chinks of spent refers to them as ‘point in the story' , time. The symbolism here is infused with unspecified narratives. Poisoned :1 , g A with irony, and the raft of carrot carrot float on a raft to itlil rat, a ‘ ' ‘ '“ ‘ ’ ‘ speaks of man’s relation with his own discarded half-eaten orange nestles Joe southern Belt of Carrels. surroundings which no amount of exotically in a tree, a "agent of few inches of water. llis lens often The process of Southam's discovery ancient wisdom can rectify. (Beatrice willow crockery lies desolatly on the alight on incident which have lost is relayed by the physicality of the cone) sea bed at low tide and a dead heron happened and will quickly clunge, viewpoint. You can sense him the m of Carrots Is at the Street crushed under a rock blurs under a like pauses in the flow. clmberlng, crouching and getting Level Gallery, Glasgow until 20 low.
54 The List 5-18 November 1993