Wednesday, November 13, 2013

MASS MoCA - the Sol Lewitt retrospective

 With my husband and son, yesterday we spent the day visiting a favorite art museum, MASS MoCA (the Massachusetts Museum of Contemporary Art).  I have so much to share as a result of that exhibit that I will have to divide it into probably at least two posts!  Lots of photos in this post!!!!
A row of hanging upside down trees greet you before you enter the museum!  Why am I always there at a time of the year when they have no leaves? Reminder to self:  Go to MASS MoCA in the summertime!
First, briefly about MASS MoCA - it is, as its name says, a contemporary art museum, one of the largest centers for contemporary visual art and performing arts in the country, located in North Adams, MA, in the lovely Berkshire Mountains. Each time I'm at this museum, there's stuff I love, and stuff I... wellll... stuff I don't love.  But I'll talk about that in another post.  This post is about an exhibit that I most decidedly loved, though it did provoke some serious conversation with my family about what it means to be an artist.  I'll share that concept later in this post.
Me.  Overwhelmed by the huge wall drawings in the Sol Lewitt Retrospective.  I have greatly cropped the wall drawing behind me for this photo.

So - this post will focus mostly on a giant retrospective of Sol Lewitt's giant wall drawings. (Yes, I just used the word giant twice in that sentence.  I'll have to try not to  use it any more in this post.)  This installation will be at the museum for 25 years, so take your time; it will likely still be there when you go for a visit!  Let me share a number of the  pieces with you here, and then I'd like to talk about them a bit, as I said above.  I have photographed people in proximity to the artwork so you can see the monumental size of this artwork. The young man in the white hoodie who appears in several photos, including the one directly above, is my son.  Please forgive me, but these pics are not posted chronologically.  Sorry!
When my son was little, he loved driving around little matchbox cars.  A wall like this in his room would have been great; all those black lines would make great roads for little cars!

 A note about the piece directly above.  I am enthralled.  I would like it to be a wall of my living room.  My husband positively cringed when I told him that.  But can't you just see a sleek couch, in a bright primary color, directly in front of that wall?  It would make me feel so very sophisticated!
 Please take note that the walls of this amazing museum are as terrific as some of the artwork!
 My son thought the lines in this piece looked like lips and butts.  I also saw sewing needles.  Below is a closeup of the lines in this work.
 There's a mathematical thought process for the arrangement of lines in this piece.  Below, a closeup.
Two walls of straws
 Above are extreme closeups of the work below.  It is all made of layers of overlapping pencil and colored pencil lines.  Lots and lots and lots and lots of lines.  They are probably 1/4" apart and cover a huge wall.  Crazy.
The piece below is a small section of a piece, consisting of...well... lines.   The 'artists' who drew the piece on the wall were given Sol Lewitt's directions about how many lines to draw, and information about where lines should go from/to, but a lot of the decisions were made by the actual draftsmen.
Above is a closeup of a section of the painting below.  Three 'artists' painted this wall, one with each color, taking turns painting their line based on the line they were next to.  Does that make sense?
 The painting below is a carefully organized progression of colors.  As in many of the other colorful pieces, the paint is an acrylic ink applied with rags in layers to achieve the desired tones.  The color progression started with gray, then the primaries, then the primaries  mixed with the gray, then the primaries mixed to make secondaries, then the secondaries mixed with the gray, then all of the primaries mixed together, and then all the primaries mixed with the gray. The last two sections are missing from my photo.
So, are you still with me?  I promised to share some of the provocative discussion I had with husband and son as we viewed this exhibit, and watched a short video about the production of the pieces in the show.  I told you we had some discussion about the meaning of the word 'artist' which I have put quote marks around in paragraphs above, as well.  So here goes...

The exhibit is a retrospective of Sol Lewitt's work.  But the actual drawings on the walls were created by others, according to his specifications.  But his specifications were not always totally specific. For example, the specs for one piece might say to draw a certain # of straight lines and a certain # of curved lines that intersect in a specific # of places, but then it is up to the person who puts it on the wall to determine exactly where those lines go.  The people who drew and painted these lines and colors all over the walls were referred to in the video as artists.  There was a huge wall-size chart of who was doing what, and when.  It was complex choreography.  But is someone an artist who simply places colors on a wall according to specs?  Or are they just draftsmen/ladies?  Or is someone an artist who simply gives someone specs to follow but doesn't actually paint or draw the colors and lines?  Who is the artist here?  The person with the creative inspiration, or the people who brings that inspiration to life?  What do you think?

We couldn't come to an agreement, but we did nevertheless enjoy the lively fun colorful work.  Meanwhile, I'll be talking more about the nature of art when I post again, in a couple of days, about the other work that we saw in the museum.  

Please weigh in with your opinions! I'll close here with a couple of visual reflection photos from the museum.  By the way, all these photos were shot with a Canon Powershot point and shoot camera.


  1. I hope you made it into Kidspace while at MOCA. There is a wonderful piece made of buttons pinned to the wall inside of a cage. When you drop a button from the top of the piece, it slides on the pins and "sings". This entire exhibit was extremely thought provoking.

    1. Darn! We missed it! I discovered we missed a couple other terrific exhibits too. But my son hit a detour driving to meet us at the museum, so we got a late start, and left just before closing time. The nice thing is that it is slightly less than 2 hours from home, so we do get back from time to time. I'll definitely look for Kidspace next time! Thanks for telling me about it!

  2. WOW!!!!!!!!! That is stinkin' amazing!! I'd need to take some motion sickness meds first though!! ha ha

    1. Haha! Glad you enjoyed my post! Now, Mr ?e, how about weighing in on the 'who is an artist' controversy?