In Art and in Science, Students Bring LeWitt To Burton’s Walls

Evelyn Crunden ’13
Features Editor

It is a rare day when a renowned artist’s drawing instructions are turned into an installation within the walls of your college. It is an even rarer day when you are asked to participate in the project.

That is the honor Clara Bauman ’13, Mingjia Chen ’15 and Clara Rosebrock ’16 all received over a month ago when they were approached with the idea of spending their respective J-terms installing the late and acclaimed artist Sol LeWitt’s Wall Drawing #139 (Grid and arcs from the midpoints of four sides), a piece donated anonymously some time ago to the Smith Museum of Art by a member of the class of 1947.

The project was overseen by Roland Lusk, who has twice before worked with students at Smith to install the artist’s work and who returned to install the work in Burton Hall, replicating the one already on display in the museum.

“I very much approached this project from the perspective of an artist,” said Bauman, a studio art major. “I later realized that the aesthetic results of LeWitt’s directions can be described in mathematical equations and I think that the possibility of describing an image into disparate ‘languages’ – mathematics and a written set of directions – is a very powerful concept.” Bauman, who considered working on the project to be a dream come true, shared sentiments similar to those of Rosebrock, who was equally thrilled.

“Being a part of the installation was an amazing experience for me. It was wonderful to take part in the creation of this wall drawing as it truly gave me a deeper understanding and appreciation for Sol LeWitt’s artwork by being part of the process and seeing the repetitive lines intersect and become more complicated the further we went,” she stated.

Still, there were difficult patches, and the work wasn’t always easy. “The first couple of days working on the project was the most difficult as it required the most precision,” said Rosebrock.  “Since we were measuring out the midpoints in the wall and then measuring out the one inch grid horizontal and vertical lines … the work was very intensive. [It] required a lot of concentration and focus.”

Chen agreed and noted that the “biggest challenge is that when we measured the wall at the very beginning, we found out that the left edge of the wall is not entirely vertical, so we had to change the measurements of the little squares when we were drawing the grid from the center towards the left end of the wall.”

Ultimately the project’s chief attribute for its participants seems to have been its interdisciplinary nature. “I have always considered the relationship between … [different] fields in my own artwork, which is concerned with the systematization of space. I look to artists like Sol LeWitt for alternative perspectives and methods of quantifying space,” said Bauman. Chen, a math major, seconded this and said, “I’m always curious about how art and math cross boundaries, and I had never worked on this kind of project before.” For her, the combination of math and art was a unique and extraordinary one, and specific to the project itself.

The intensiveness of the work and the attention to detail required might have been a turn-off for some, but the demanding nature of the task seems to have had the opposite effect on those involved, who spoke of their positive experience working with Lusk as well as the impact the project has had on their own individual interests and studies.

“The project itself only took about eight days to complete, but the process was very specific and, yes, required intense concentration,” admitted Bauman. “I was most surprised at how exact our measurements had to be and how great a difference a small miscalculation could make.”

Still, the opportunity proved to be an incredible one on a personal level, for Bauman specifically. “I was lucky to have the chance to draw some of the lines and found it a challenge to control the quality of the line as it is important to apply consistent pressure and move at a uniform speed across the wall,” she reflected.

Now, as classes resume and Smith life returns with a vengeance, the project’s assistants find themselves preoccupied with other work. Still, the memory remains, as does the art, which will remain a central component of the science quad. Most students dream of seeing their passions and studies combined into one, and even more hope for the chance to be singled out for incredible opportunities to showcase their skills. For the students who spent their January hard at work in Burton, those hopes are now reality.

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