Artwork: SOL LEWITT, On the Walls of the Lower East Side, 1979 [detail], Color photographs mounted on board,18 1/8 x 15 inches (46 x 38.1 cm) 73 pages; 1 page at 15 7/8 x 15 inches
“Conceptual artists are mystics rather than rationalists. They leap to conclusions that logic cannot reach,” Sol LeWitt (1928-2007) famously wrote as the first of 35 “Sentences on Conceptual Art,” published in 1969. It’s the perfect way to introduce his understanding of the work that artists create that manifests the Idea in physical space.
By forgoing the impulse towards linear thought, we lean more heavily on our sensory, perceptual, and emotional reactions. In doing so, we can be liberated from the tyranny of linear thought, its presumption of supreme validity, and its insistence on a singular way of comprehending the world. By abandoning the rational, we open ourselves to new experiences that can take us beyond the limitations of the “known.” It is in this fresh, uninhibited space we may come to discover new, uncharted depths of the soul.
Liz Deschenes / Sol LeWitt now on view at Miguel Abreu Gallery, New York, through October 23, 2016, is a sumptuous dip into the deep, into the space where photography becomes more than an object that bears witness—it becomes a transformative experience unto itself. The exhibition features selections of LeWitt’s serialized photographic work On the Walls of the Lower East Side (1979) and Black Map of Manhattan (1992) along with a constellation of new photograms by Deschenes made in response to LeWitt’s work.
LeWitt’s photographs present the city as it was, a blank slate upon which it is denizens revealed themselves. At that time, the Lower East Side had been struggling through a decade of ‘benign neglect,” as buildings were lost to arson, lives lost to drugs and violence. Yet at the same time, there was a light that shined emanating from the flames of rebellion, of a refusal to roll over in the face of oppression. The writing was on the wall, articulated in the demands of the people” “Castrate Rapists,” “Avenge Attica,” and “Stop Nuclear Power,” to name but a few.
But LeWitt saw more. He saw what we see without looking: tags, flyers, building numbers, handmade signs, torn posters, street gates, and faded walls. God is in the details, it has been said; the repetition of LeWitt’s square photographs, mapped out in grid, transforms the work into the experience of the Lower East Side in ’79 with the visual onslaught of constant stimuli, all of it signifying something not always readily apparent but deeply visceral.
Brilliantly complementing LeWitt’s photographs are Deschenes’s photographs, a series of triangular works that are a direct record of the atmospheric conditions of the production themselves. The light, humidity, and temperature inform the surface of the final works, each becoming an infinitely intimate reading of the environment itself. In this new series, Deschenes applied photographic bleach on the photograms to echo LeWitt’s gesture of erasure in LeWitt’s Cutout Maps series (1976-79), currently on view at Paula Cooper Gallery, New York, in the concurrent exhibition Sol LeWitt and Liz Deschenes. Both artists eradicate the image, but where LeWitt removes what was already there, Deschenes leaves out completely, from start to finish.
Taken together, Liz Deschenes / Sol LeWitt offers a singular experience that is, in many ways, the nature of New York: a constant rhythm of visual stimulation that builds into a flood, a deluge that washes over us until we seek the sheer pleasure of emptiness. But then the emptiness itself is not so empty as it seems, for even in its profound alienation, we cannot escape—unless we leave.
Miss Rosen is a New York-based writer, curator, and brand strategist. There is nothing she adores so much as photography and books. A small part of her wishes she had a proper library, like in the game of Clue. Then she could blaze and write soliloquies to her in and out of print loves.