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Sol LeWitt: Film Review

The Bottom Line

Art doc offers some insights while relishing LeWitt's mural-like work.

Opens

Wednesday, May 7 (Icarus Films)

Director-Screenwriter

Chris Teerink

Chris Teerink soaks up the work of one of Conceptual Art's pioneers.

 

An elegant meditation on one of the most distinctive bodies of work in contemporary art, Chris Teerink's Sol LeWitt offers much less biography than some casual fans may expect: LeWitt, we learn, was a private man who never attended his own gallery openings and tried not to have his picture taken. Still, it offers enough sense of the artist's personality to sustain curious viewers through a feature-length tour of his work, offering well-photographed installations that will play well on the big screen, even if most art buffs will find the doc on video.

Though he honors his subject's wishes by avoiding the details of LeWitt's upbringing and private life, Teerink spends enough time with colleagues to tease out a sense of his personality. Fellow conceptual artist Lawrence Weiner admits that "Sol was not a friendly human being," while noting that he and others all liked him; a woman who lived near the artist and his wife in Spoleto, Italy, describes LeWitt as enormously kind and generous in his life outside the art world.

FILM REVIEW: Unclaimed

Interviews with museum curators and the artist's studio assistants shed more light on both the intellectual underpinnings and the practical realities of LeWitt's art. Assistant John Hogan explains that, in the wall drawings that made LeWitt famous, embodying the work in a set of instructions was a way of spreading his ideas to places he couldn't always go: "I'm going to fax you the instructions," the artist might say, letting people on the other side of the world execute a mural he himself might never see. Alexander van Grevenstein, former curator of the Stedelijk Museum in Amsterdam and a lifelong friend, is particularly good at explaining the practicalities of installing these pieces.

Elsewhere in the Netherlands, in a cupola within Maastricht's Bonnefanten museum, Teerink shows just how challenging those installations can be: We watch as a crew measures out and paints a simple-looking but challenging work, "Wall drawing #801: Spiral," that fills a massive interior with alternating black and white lines. (The process probably uses more painter's masking tape than any single hardware store would have on hand.) Alternating with scenes of this long process, Teerink and co-photographer Jacques Laureys find echoes of LeWitt's geometries in places associated with his career, especially New York City, and tour through a gargantuan, long-running retrospective occupying three floors of former factory space at Massachusetts' MASS MoCA.

Production: Doc.Eye Film

Director-screenwriter: Chris Teerink

Producers: Frank van Reemst, Joost Verheij

Directors of photography: Jacques Laureys, Chris Teerink

Editors: Chris Teerink, Jan Wouter van Reijen

Music: Rutger Zuydervelt/Machinefabriek

Not rated, 71 minutes