Faculty, Students and Alumni Artists Work to Align 'The Hand and the Soul'

January 22, 2008 — A team of 10 faculty, students and alumni spent several days over a two-week period at the University of Virginia Art Museum employing steady hands in preparation for the installation of "Wall Drawing #394" by American conceptual artist Sol LeWitt.

Like many of his murals, the drawing is meant to be repeatedly replicated by teams of artists closely following LeWitt's written instructions. To install a LeWitt wall drawing, artists must employ mathematics, aesthetic skill and teamwork.

While some drawings are quite colorful and require the use of several types of media, "Wall Drawing #394" is a line drawing which requires hours of precision work to replicate.

The piece will be displayed at the museum in an exhibition, "The Hand and the Soul: LeWitt, Slutzky, Iliescu," opening Feb. 6 and running through April 19

LeWitt (1928-2007) was in the national news in November with the opening of a 27,000-square-foot exhibition of his wall drawings at the Massachusetts Museum of Contemporary Art in North Adams, Mass. "Sol LeWitt: A Wall Drawing Retrospective," a collaboration between the Yale University Art Gallery, the Massachusetts Museum of Contemporary Art and the Williams College Museum of Art, will be on display for 25 years.
U.Va.'s exhibition is being organized by Sanda Iliescu, associate professor of architecture and art, and led by 2001 U.Va. graduate Roland Lusk, a LeWitt assistant who traveled to U.Va. to assist with the installation. Iliescu organized the exhibit with curator Andrea Douglas to demonstrate the belief articulated in the lives and works of LeWitt and the artist Robert Slutzky that engaging in collaborative projects, teaching and writing about art enhances aesthetic experience. Iliescu's own work in the exhibit, a series of collages, pays tribute to the two famous artists who served as her mentors.

The LeWitt drawing to be displayed here has been divided into 10 equal portions – one series of 30 square blocks per team member. The first step in the process was to create a grid in pencil on the wall, using as straight a line as possible. Afterwards, the artists began to form concepts for each section.

"Each of us used our own method of determining our particular composition," Iliescu said. "[Students] then put all our compositions together to create a master map using the computer software Rhino 3-D Modeling."

The team consists of Iliescu, Lusk, several current students — Patrick Costello (studio art), Lauren Hackney (architecture), Maggie Hansen (architecture), Tom Hogge (architecture), Evans Martin (landscape architecture), Rachel Singel (studio art) and Supriya Sudan (architecture) — and two alumni who received bachelor's degrees in architecture in 2002 and master's degrees in architecture in 2008, Erin Hannegan and Hana Kim.

Iliescu said she has been thrilled by the process and has found deep meaning in working hands-on with LeWitt's simple lines.

"The deep black lines are lovely, but even more lovely is the contemplative, intensely aesthetic experience of making them. I never expected this," she said. "Making a LeWitt line is such a rewarding experience. I try to keep the line looking consistent and flexible at all times. I work with the texture of the wall gradually, the line darkening only very slowly. But I love the in-between stages of the line because it so beautifully mirrors the tactile quality of the wall. It is as if I am listening to the wall."

A symposium will be held April 16 and a book edited by Iliescu, "The Hand and the Soul: Aesthetics and Ethics in Architecture and Art," will be released this spring by the University of Virginia Press. For information, visit www.arch.virginia.edu

—  By Derry Wade