Idea is “a machine that makes the art”

Tonight on Something Else, Julia and Ira chat to Macushla Robinson emerging theorist and assistant curator of contemporary international art at the Art Gallery of NSW. The topic is Sol LeWitt, conceptual art pioneer whose 40 years of practice is currently showing at the Art Gallery of NSW.

In late 60s Sol LeWitt wrote famous Paragraphs and Sentences on Conceptual Art and forged a new way of thinking about art practice, where idea or concept is the most important aspect of the work and the execution is only a perfunctory affair. Shortly following the publication of these two manifestos, LeWitt performed a conceptual “ritual” Buried Cube Containing an Object of Importance but Little Value where he literally dag a hole in a local garden and shovelled in a cube. Perhaps this was to symbolise “death of the object” and announce birth of so-called de-materialisation in art.


LeWitt and his colleagues of the time (Frank Stella, Donald Judd, Richard Serra and so on) were developing art practice in response and opposition to the highly personal Abstract Expression, then dominant movement heralded by artists like Jackson Pollock. Expressionist art was all about big emotions, while LeWitt sought to move toward a reductivist vocabulary in art, towards non-metaphoric concreteness. His work is characterised by simple, symmetrical forms and modular repetitions that aim to be as objective as possible, with no narrative ends or excessive emotions. LeWitt art is not “meant for the sensation of the eye.”


Art Gallery of NSW is currently showing LeWitt’s 40 years of practice, exhibition titled ‘Your mind is exactly at that line’. Exhibited are both LeWitt’s minimalist structures and his famous wall drawings, all of which have been installed and painted by appointed ‘artworkers’ (terminology used by LeWitt) following LeWitt’s clear instructions. Lack of the artist’s “sacred” touch is yet another characteristic of LeWitt’s work militated against the expression of emotions. “To work with a plan that is preset is one way of avoiding subjectivity,” wrote LeWitt in his Paragraphs. Opposed to the Abstract Expressionist (and surrealist) rule of chance and momentarily inspiration, LeWitt cautions: “If the artist changes his mind midway through the execution of the piece he compromises the result. […] His wilfulness may only be ego.” Perhaps having others execute his worked helped him avoid the trap of ego’s wilfulness.

Tune in to 89.7FM tonight and listen to Julia and Ira talk to Macushla Robinson about LeWitt’s practice and philosophy.

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