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The Arc and the Line: The Conceptual Prints of Sol LeWitt
Bernard Jacobson Gallery, New York
3 November - 31 December 2011

The drawings, paintings, and sculptures of Sol LeWitt (1928-2007) and the logic underlying them, are familiar to those interested in the history of minimal and conceptual art: taking as a starting point the structure of the grid, LeWitt set a series of instructions for himself and, following them, explored all the possibilities derived from these instructions through a series of canvases and three-dimensional objects. The aim of this practice was to eliminate subjective content from the practice of making art.

The Arc and the Line: The Conceptual Prints of Sol LeWitt, on view at the Bernard Jacobson Gallery in New York until 31 December, showcases a small number of LeWitt's prints. These span three decades, from 1970 to 2003, and cover a wide range of techniques, including etchings, woodblock prints, silk screens and linocuts, and even four hand-engraved crystal glasses designed by the artist (these are not kept in the main show room and will not be discussed in this review). The show tells us something about LeWitt's production as a whole; what is particularly striking in its narrative is how, while LeWitt never abandoned the practice of beginning with a series of instructions that he would carry out objectively, the margin for interpretation within these became greater with time, especially with his increased use of colour. This yields very different visual results.

After an initial encounter with a richly coloured and pleasingly textured series of four oil-based woodblock prints titled Bands Not Straight in Four Directions from 1999, the viewer is plunged more fully into LeWitt's logic: Straight Lines in Four Directions and All Their Possible Combinations is an early work from 1973, and the series of 15 etchings presents a literal and clear relationship to the title of the work and an easily grasped progression within the series. The result is visually sparse. The next piece, a set of five etchings titled The Location of Lines from 1975, owes much to LeWitt's dry sense of humour. With it, a dimension is added to the literal execution of the task at hand through the incorporation of the instructions into the image, written in a tight printed hand underneath the relevant lines. The density of information in the text is such as to make it practically illegible, yet it adds an aesthetic dimension to the piece and goes so far as to suggest a certain referentiality, as the print has a newspaper-like quality. The series Six Geometric Figures from 1977 (etchings with aquatint) obeys a slightly different logic, as each etching presents a geometric figure whose shape is derived from that of the canvas. In addition to this, each figure is placed at a given margin from the edge of the surface. In a move typical of LeWitt, the final series of six is the result of his exhausting all the possibilities inherent in the logic he sets out for himself.

Bands of Equal Width in Colour from 2000 is a set of eight large linocuts (each measures 29 x 29 inches). Their vibrant colours and rich surface texture jump out at the viewer, and the effect contrasts with the cool cerebral lines of the earlier prints. As with the next piece, the similarly vibrant series of linocuts Tondo Stars of 2002, the pattern is difficult to grasp. In both, the arrangement of colours has been carried out in such a way that the balance between them is optimal and none dominates the others. Yet when we look closer to try to understand how such an equilibrium was achieved, we find ourselves lost in a chromatic maze. With these works, the exhibition reaches its flamboyant crescendo.

We must now slowly begin the descent back into a measured, calculable expression of LeWitt's rationalism, as we move back again in time. The series of five aquatints, Lines from the Sides, Corners and Center of the Page to Specific Points, from 1975 obeys the strong conceptual logic typical of LeWitt's work. However, what is most poignant here is the progression from one print to the next, a progression tied together by the magnetism of LeWitt's "specific points." These change places from image to image, pulling the lines with them. The black and white colour scheme further enhances the magnetic feel. The exhibition continues its descent with the austere yet endlessly fascinating series of three (barely distinguishable) two-colour etchings titled Arcs and Lines from 1975. In this series, the viewer cannot help but feel that the logic that regiments the whole is constantly just beyond his or her reach. The early Composite Series from 1970 that ends the arc of the exhibition's narrative presents a set of five silk-screen prints composed of lines so tightly drawn that they form a quasi-impenetrable tapestry. Having glimpsed something of the magic of LeWitt's complex, rigorous, and challenging system, we are invited into the realm of contemplation. We are left with a sense of this magic, which stems from the fact that, as LeWitt attempts to banish from the artwork all subjectivity, a remnant of poetry nonetheless lingers at the edges of his work to emerge where we least expect it.

Elizabeth Miller, The Arc and the Line: The Conceptual Prints of Sol LeWitt. Studio International. 21 November 2011. Web. <>