Art that asks questions
The act of vandalism last week against Seven Walls art display alongside the Colby College Museum of Art has grave costs for our community. This one selfish and ignorant act has seriously damaged a work of art entrusted to our care; the artist created it specifically for Colby and gifted it to the College in 2001.
Sol LeWitt is a foundational figure in the art movements of Conceptualism and Minimalism that arose in the 1960s. Conceptual artists advocated for the primacy of idea over form in art. The work of art, according to LeWitt’s 1967 treatise on Conceptual art, is made to engage the mind rather than solely the eye or emotions.
In 1968, LeWitt took this notion to its extreme when he fabricated a metal cube that he then buried in the ground. When there is nothing left to see, all that remains is the idea of the artwork. LeWitt’s approach to art retains much of its radical character today. Seven Walls is a concept created by the artist and executed on the Colby campus by the H.P. Cummings Construction Company according to the artist’s written instructions.
LeWitt began making artwork out of concrete blocks in the mid-1980s and termed these works “structures.” Like Richard Serra’s 4-5-6, another major work of public sculpture on the Colby campus, Seven Walls takes up the precepts of Minimalism.
With its literal forms, Seven Walls rejects pictorial or illusionistic space. It engages its viewer in an interactive relationship as one negotiates the 12’ x 12’ walls set at slightly irregular angles to each other. This is a physical experience. One’s perception of the piece shifts dramatically with one’s movement around it. One relates to the work as an embodied viewer not merely a set of eyes.
It is not an easy piece: seven walls simply constructed out of concrete blocks, it challenges many fundamental assumptions about what an artwork can be. Can the idea for an artwork be conceived by an artist and executed by others? Can common building blocks be materials for making art? How can rigorously minimalist, abstract forms function as a work of art? How does one’s perception of art change when a work is addressed to a bodily, rather than a strictly optical, experience?
These are some of the questions that LeWitt’s Seven Walls asks us. That this work of art resides at a liberal arts college—a place where debate, risk-taking, and free expression are part of our shared goals—offers an opportunity to take up these questions in a broad and thought-provoking context. Yet when expression takes the form of spray paint on an artwork, this debate turns destructive and damages more than just a piece of art. It damages our collective values and points to a blatant disrespect and disregard for our responsibilities as part of this community.
The art we show at the Museum is not always safe, not always what you expect, not always what you like. In fact, I hope what you see at the Museum often challenges you. Sol LeWitt’s Seven Walls is part of this challenge.
-Sharon Corwin & Carolyn Muzzy Director and Chief Curator, Colby College Museum of Art