Inspiration: Sol LeWitt at Mass MoCA

If you’ve never been to the Museum of Contemporary Art in North Adams, MA, known as Mass MoCA, put it on your to-do list. It’s a large complex of twenty-six 19th-century factory buildings which opened in 1990 to exhibit large works of contemporary art and provide performance spaces. The entire complex is so magnificent that it’s well worth visiting just to see the buildings, with their brick facades and interiors, courtyards, passageways, bridges, and elevated walkways. On a bright day, the sun pours through long windows and paints the floors with light. Even the restrooms, which preserve the original architectural elements and fixtures, are amazing.

There’s a fantastic show at Mass MoCA right now. Sol LeWitt: A Wall Drawing Retrospective opened in 2008, many years in the planning. One hundred and five of LeWitt’s large-scale wall drawings, spanning the artist’s career, grace nearly an acre of walls that have been installed, per LeWitt’s own specifications, over three stories of Building #7, which was fully restored for the show.

Two very Renaissance things about these majestic works:

  • They are frescoes!
  • LeWitt plans them out very methodically and meticulously. But he leaves the actual execution to apprentices. A team of sixty-five artists and art students drafted and painted for six months according to his diagrams and instructions.

This show is a real treat. It pulses with color and energy. Exhilarating, grand, and fun. The process by which the works were conceived and brought to life is fascinating and thought-provoking. LeWitt’s work is rooted in basic geometry, and the materials are simple: pencils, colored inks, crayons, brushes. He provided detailed instructions to his apprentices, so the works can be reproduced anywhere. But LeWitt knew that there will always be subtle differences in each reproduction. There are some great videos of the six-month creation process. The interplay between the works, the building, and the light is gorgeous. Take a look below. If you respond the way I did and you’re within striking distance, try and make some plans to get there. Good news: the show will run for 25 years (yes, that’s TWENTY-FIVE), until 2033. So you have plenty of time.

As a result of this show, I have a new item on my bucket list: a chapel that’s part of LeWitt’s Wall Drawings series called the Cappella delle Brunate in Piedmont, Italy. It’s quite a bit further afield than Mass MoCA. But it’s on the list…