Over the past several months my Teaching Artist experiences have been almost completely outside the classroom. I have been working with a group of fifteen youth ages 14 – 22 on a series of place-based projects such as murals, days of Arts Service, community dialogue sessions and performances. Often we are joined by parents, neighbors, fellow teaching and community artists.
One of those projects took place at the University Of Arizona Museum of Art as part of an exhibition entitled “Sol LeWitt Days”. UAMA Curator Lauren Rabb invited six artist teams to work on designs created by LeWitt, a founder of minimal and conceptual art and well known for his collective art-making. Our assignment was to re-create LeWitt’s Wall Drawing #960 on a large interior museum wall. We selected what we considered the most challenging and difficult of pieces. The instructions read:
“Wall Drawing #960: A straight line about 18” (45.7 cm) long is drawn; from its midpoint, another line about 18” (45.7 cm) long; from the midpoint of each subsequent line, another line 18” (45.7 cm) long, uniformly dispersed covering the wall.
This was augmented by additional instructions from the museum and LeWitt estate. We combined these elements with our desire to experiment with a rhizomatic process while creating the largest work in the exhibit. This non-hierarchical approach to art-making meant that each participant became both the student and the teaching artist.
It took our group eight days to complete the piece. The first day was painfully slow and we only covered a tiny section of the wall. We were not just drawing lines – we were becoming Sol LeWitts’ assistants while taking complete ownership to the work. Each artist made one line and then the work passed on to the next person. With each passing hour our process evolved. We went to two lines, then three lines. Finally we moved to timed sessions – five, ten and finally twenty minutes. Eventually we found ourselves working ritualistically, silently enjoying the ambiance created by the piece and our setting.
After working we would sometimes go for pizza. It was a real confirmation watching one of the teens explain what it was like to work in a museum to his friends. Imagine you’re a sixteen-year-old tagger who has never used acrylic or been in a museum, let alone having the opportunity to draw on their walls, legally. His friends, decked out in their baggy pants, backpacks and baseball hats responded to his tale of our work with “that’s dope dude,” glancing at our crew and smiling. Do you hear that Sol?!
This project was a transformative experience for all of us, lifting our self-esteem and sense of place in an art world that often seems remote or exclusive. Sol LeWitt, of course, sought to break down these barriers and make the fine arts available to all. His work can be reproduced by anyone willing to work with the LeWitt Estate and put in the time, intention and energy his works necessitate.
Several weeks after we finished the work we were notified by UAMA Curator Lauren Rabb that the LeWitt estate loved our work and a photograph of our work would be included in their permanent archives.
For those of you familiar with the work of LeWitt you will appreciate the kinesthetic nature of the work, and its ability to grow on you over time. It is truly an aesthetic and social experience. Weeks later in a coffee house a street artist kid ran up, really excited to turn me on to the new artist he discovered…you got it, Sol LeWitt.