Project 11 - Sol Lewitt

In 1998, twenty-one years after his first visit to Australia to create Project 6, Sol LeWitt undertook a second Kaldor project, this time involving a major exhibition of his work at Sydney’s Museum of Contemporary Art. In stark contrast to the 1977 Wall drawings at the Art Gallery of New South Wales and National Gallery of Victoria, which had reflected his early interest in pared-back variations on form and colour, LeWitt’s new Wall pieces for Project 11 incorporated vast bands of gloss and matt acrylic blacks and undulating wave-like forms painted in bright primary and secondary colours.

Over a 40-year career, LeWitt created more than 1200 wall drawings. The first was conceived in 1968 for an exhibition at Paula Cooper Gallery in New York, where he drew fine pencil lines in squares onto the wall. This simple idea was revolutionary in its context. Fusing the work with its architectural space, each drawing became impermanent, rendering its value intangible, reframing the way in which art is sold and collected. The early wall drawings, including those made by LeWitt on his first visit to Australia in 1977, were austere variations of lines in black-and-white pencil and chalk. Restrained works of this period using colour were limited to primary red, yellow and blue. In the 1980s and ’90s, LeWitt extended his exploration with isometric wall drawings in primary colours, later including secondary colours in wall-to-wall ink wash compositions of stars and continuous forms that resembled cubist configurations.

LeWitt’s experimentation with acrylic marked an important shift in his practice and in 1997 he created the first acrylic Wall pieces. Wall-to-wall blocks of primary and secondary colours were painted throughout Ace Gallery in New York. John Kaldor saw the exhibition and, responding to its strength and exuberance, asked LeWitt to reconfigure a selection of the works for Project 11 at Sydney’s Museum of Contemporary Art. He also commissioned a new acrylic wall drawing especially for the site, Wall drawing #876, which covered the wall at the entrance inside the MCA’s ground-floor gallery, transforming it with vibrant waves of colour. Three continuous panels undulated with glossy orange and blue, red and purple, green and yellow, contained by framing lines in matt black.

Earlier works from John Kaldor’s collection were also exhibited to celebrate LeWitt’s long history of wall drawing and to provide context for the new black-on-black paintings that filled entire rooms upstairs. Playing on contrasts between the texture of gloss and matt blacks in waves and straight lines, their simple forms, shown in progression, recall the ‘straight’ and ‘not-straight’ lines of LeWitt’s earlier chalk wall drawings, here transformed into large, sumptuous explorations of texture and sheen.