Sol LeWitt:
Incomplete Open Cubes
Nicholas Baume (ed)

Copyright © Paul Brown 2002
All Rights Reserved

This review was written for fineArt forum for their November 2002 issue.

Sol LeWitt remains for me one of the most important artists of the 20th century. And the Variations of Incomplete Open Cubes is perhaps his most important work. The work was originally exhibited at the Galerie Yvon Lambert in Paris in 1974 and then elsewhere in Europe and the USA.

In 2001 Nicholas Baume working closely with the artist curated this exhibition at the Wadsworth Atheneum Museum of Art in Hartford Connecticut - a museum that already hosts one of the more important LeWitt collections and which has a long established special relationship with the artist. We are lucky that someone had the vision to turn the catalogue into a book that now brings the work to a wider audience and at a time when the late modernist period is being reviewed and revalued after decades of neglect.

LeWitt is a conceptual artist, a serialist and systems artist who once said "my own work of the past ten years is about only one thing, logical statements using formal elements as grammar". He is often associated with the minimalist movement - a position he (like Dan Flavin) adamantly rejects: "Recently there has been much written about minimal art, but I have not discovered anyone who admits to doing this kind of thing. [...] Therefore I conclude that it is part of a secret language that art critics use when communicating with each other through the medium of the art magazine."

For me LeWitt is one of a few artists whose work bridges modernism and postmodernism. It is simultaneously a pinnacle of modernism - the totally intrinsic object - while at same time being "worthless". It can be made by anyone without LeWitt's intervention and is void of traditional aesthetic attribution - it's a signifier that is open to the pluralistic interpretations of each and every one of its viewers.

In the Variations of Incomplete Open Cubes LeWitt takes a simple question - how many of these variations are possible? The resulting exhibition is a collection of his notes and drawings together with 8-inch models of the final complete set. For this "retrospective" Baume was also able to include many of the larger 40-inch aluminium variations that have never been seen together before.

The book contains a luscious collection of photographs of the works together with facsimiles of LeWitt's notes, drawings, prints and extracts from previous catalogues and publications. Baume's essay traces the history of the work as well as providing important contextual and critical information.

Pamela M Lee discusses the work in the context of serialism and draws important comparisons with the contemporary music scene - LeWitt owns manuscripts by Steve Reich and other composers. She also refers to Rosalind Krauss' famous criticism of the artist's work as obsessive - the "babble" of serial expansion which fails to summarise by using "the single example that would imply the whole". Here we see if not the origin then the essence of the mainstream viewpoint that has led to so much neglect of this period of art history. Neglect that a book like this serves to redress.

Jonathon Flatley's essay takes LeWitt's wonderful statement: "The idea become a machine that makes the art" and compares Andy Wahol's "I want to be a machine". The resulting essay brings a wealth of association to the work and clearly illustrates its power as a "open" signifier. LeWitt is important and so is this book. I'm grateful to the Wadsworth, to Baume and to MIT Press for making it available.

Sol LeWitt: Incomplete Open Cubes
Edited by Nicholas Baume
With essays by Nicholas Baume, Jonathan Flatley and Pamela M Lee The catalogue of an exhibition at the Wadsworth Atheneum Museum of Art, Harford, Connecticut
MIT Press
ISBN 0-262-52311-6

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