Home Arts The story behind Sol LeWitt’s rarely seen wall designs in a medieval tower

The story behind Sol LeWitt’s rarely seen wall designs in a medieval tower

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New post spotlights Sol LeWitt band (1928-2007) works hitherto little noticed. The late American minimalist and conceptual artist began visiting Italy in the late 1960s, then moved to the central Umbrian town of Spoleto. In 1976, LeWitt produced a large number of pencil drawings on the interior walls of the Vecchia Torre, a medieval tower in Spoleto that became his studio during his stay in Italy. “These fragile drawings, made on walls susceptible to degradation, have rarely been seen and have never been documented, but they represent one of LeWitt’s major works,” reads a statement from MIT Press, the publisher of a new book on the works. In the excerpt below, art historian Rye Dag Holmboe describes the significance of the tower drawings, how they explain LeWitt’s approach to work in progress, and how some of these key works came close to being lost.

In 1976, Sol LeWitt made a group of wall drawings in the Vecchia Torre, a medieval tower in the Umbrian town of Spoleto, Italy. They include an elaborate series of drawings of lines, shapes and words, three grids in which different combinations of geometric figures are exhausted and a statement that reads, tautologically, “ON THIS WALL WE FOUND THIS WRITING”.

At the time, LeWitt was staying with two friends, gallery owner Marilena Bonomo and her husband, Lorenzo, at their converted Augustinian hermitage in Monteluco, a nearby mountain. LeWitt grew to love Spoleto and settled there permanently in 1980; a number of his works can be found around town, in parks, restaurants and cafes, where they were sometimes exchanged as gifts.

Marilena and Lorenzo first commissioned LeWitt to make a number of site-specific drawings in their home, an intricate series of intersecting circles made with pencil that exist to this day. This work evokes LeWitt’s explorations of seriality and the use of rules in artistic creation. He made another wall design with his friend, the artist Mel Bochner, who often visited Spoleto. The city has become a meeting place for a number of artists, largely thanks to the Festival dei Due Mondi. The Bonomos would later have works by LeWitt’s friends Alighiero Boetti, Richard Tuttle and David Tremlett on the walls of their 13th-century hermitage.

Drawings by Sol LeWitt on the walls of the Vecchia Torre, Spoleto Photo: Joschi Herczeg

While in Spoleto, the Bonomos invited LeWitt to use their medieval tower as a workshop. Every day he went there on foot, leaving at 7 a.m. and criss-crossing the mountain trails criss-crossing Monteluco, sometimes photographing what he saw along the way. He then walked along a beautiful aqueduct, the Ponte delle Torri, more than 200m long and 90m high, which connects the mountains to the city. The tower is a short walk from Piazza del Mercato, Spoleto’s main square, where LeWitt had a coffee and read a copy of The Republic, learning Italian as you go. He also wrote a number of postcards which he sent to family and friends.

The 1976 drawings are not the only ones he made on the walls of the tower. A year later, in 1977, LeWitt produced a new series of drawings for an exhibition at the Vecchia Torre, one of several exhibitions held there between 1976 and 1993. The exhibition being temporary and site-specific , some of these drawings were quickly covered. at the top. A large circle in black charcoal, which was part of a series of six geometric shapes drawn directly on the tower’s white plaster walls, is now barely visible beneath a brightly colored abstract painting by Italian artist Nicola de Maria . Two other designs in this series, a trapeze and a parallelogram, were painted white so as not to distract from the works of future artists.

The pencil drawings made in 1976 are different from the 1977 series because they were not originally intended for the public. For a time they were only shared by other artists invited to move into the tower. They are more tentative and exploratory, and might better be called shop drawings or “shop work”. This is the expression used by the art historian Briony Fer to describe the objects left in Eva Hesse’s studio after her death in 1970, objects that are more temporary and difficult to define than her finished work.

LeWitt’s drawings Photo: Joschi Herczeg

What also makes the 1976 drawings singular in LeWitt’s work is their fragility – the crumbling plaster means they slowly degraded, a situation not helped by Spoleto’s sensitivity to earthquakes. – and the fact that, unlike so many of LeWitt’s works, they are not reproducible. . Or at least it’s very hard to imagine how they could look or feel the same anywhere else. One of the most striking aspects of the shop drawings is how they reveal LeWitt’s improvised method of working, through trial and error. The attempt to exhaust all combinations of six geometric figures in the three grid designs took several tries. A seemingly simple problem found no ready-made solution, and the tidy aspects of the drawings are belied by the many mistakes and erasures he made while trying to create them. The grid designs act as a cue to those who would view LeWitt’s geometric work as mathematically or aesthetically pure. The manufacturing process is too messy, too full of errors and too playful. The basic shapes are closer to children’s building blocks than geometric essences, although these are also alluded to.

Shop drawings by Sol LeWitt in the Vecchia TorreRye Dag Holmboe, MIT Press, 136pp, $49.95 (hb)

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