NORTH ADAMS — When "Sol LeWitt: A Wall Drawing Retrospective" opened to the public on Nov. 16, 2008, visitors from as far away as Honolulu and as close as River Street were on hand to view 105 of the artist's large-scale wall drawings housed in Building 7 at the Massachusetts Museum of Contemporary Art.
A decade later, the exhibit, a collaboration of Mass MoCA, Yale University Art Gallery, Williams College Museum of Art and the Sol LeWitt estate, continues to attract thousands of visitors — new and returning — each year. On Saturday, Nov. 17, Mass MoCA will celebrate the first 10 years of the exhibit, which is on view for at least another 15 years, culminating in November 2033.
"We thought it was important to mark this [anniversary]for a couple of reasons," Mass MoCA Director Joseph C. Thompson said. " On its own, that body of work is a milestone in recent art history. It's magnificent, majestic and witty for its own sake.
"Sol had this quote: 'The idea becomes a machine that makes the art.' In this case, the whole idea of collaboration — with Sol, his family, his studio; with Jock [Reynolds, former director of Yale University Art Gallery], Yale, WCMA; of Mass MoCA being host to artists, installations and institutions; as Mass MoCA as a safe haven, became a foundation. It became the foundation for our partnership with the Hall Art Foundation and the exhibition of Anselm Kiefer. It became the foundation for B6 and collaborations with James Turrel, Laurie Anderson and Jenny Holzer. All of those collaborative partnerships, the long-term co-hosting, was born with LeWitt."
He added, "Institutionally, that idea led to the growth of Mass MoCA over the last 10 years."
In many ways, both figuratively and physically, the LeWitt retrospective, Thompson said, has become the heart of the museum.
"Architecturally, it was the first building to put a circular loop into the museum. Before [Building 7] was opened, you would have to walk through each gallery to get to the next, reach the far end and turn back," he said. "When it opened, it was like a relief valve. You could loop through [Building] 7 and head back down to the lobby and Kidspace."
With the opening of B6, the LeWitt retrospective is now, literally, at the center of the museum.
"The art, itself, the idea of long-term installations, it becoming the fulcrum of a pivot point of the museum — they are all reasons the LeWitt exhibition has been transformative for the museum. It seemed right to raise a glass," Thompson said.
The celebration, LeWittX10, will begin with a symposium "The Machine that Makes the Art? Interpretation, Collaboration and Sol Lewitt's Wall Drawings" at 11 a.m.
Lindsay Aveilhe, Susan Cross, Charles W. Haxthausen, Anna Lovatt, Veronica Roberts and Christopher Vacchio will each discuss LeWitt's legacy. Their presentations will be followed by a group conversations, moderated by curator Alexandra Foradas.
In addition to the scholarly discussions, the museum has a full day of activities punctuated by pop-up performances in the galleries from artists whose work has been influenced by LeWitt.
"We know many artists who have been moved in some way or the other by Sol and his work," Thompson said. "We get to live with Sol; get to see the energizing, motivational force his work is for so many artists. It's easy to collect stories from artists affected by Sol's ideas. His work has been inspirational to a widely diverse group of artists, some who are going to be here to celebrate with us."
One such artist is jazz pianist Jason Moran, a 2010 MacArthur Fellow, who will perform in the galleries during the afternoon and during a ticketed dinner that evening.
"As a fan, my wife and I trekked up to Mass MoCA to see the exhibit. I remember feeling, the audible gasp one makes when you first see the work, in that space," Moran said in a telephone interview from Italy. "It's in its own jungle. It feels like it goes on forever. I was thankful that it was in a space that allowed it to do that."
He recalled the first time he saw LeWitt's work, sometime in 2001 or 2002, while watching a PBS documentary about the artist.
"I'm not sure why I'm drawn to his work," he said. "Work like his is not the type that the term soulful is applied to. I'm from Texas and it is soulful."
Moran added, "His work is porous. It lets you be inside it and it allows you to understand the process."
As it is his first time performing in that space and at Mass MoCA, Moran isn't sure just what he'll play during his pop-up performance in the galleries.
"I have no idea what the space is going to sound like or how it will feel," he said. "I'm an improviser. I'm ready to respond."
Pop-up stories and performances, in the galleries, will take place from 1:30 to 4:30 p.m. Family events, including a LeWitt-themed scavenger hunt and art bar activities at Kidspace, will take place throughout the day.
The festivities will culminate with cocktails, dinner and a seated performance by Quindar, a project of Wilco's Mikael Jorgensen, and a second performance by Moran. Tickets for the evening event are $150 each.
If you go ...
When: Saturday, Nov. 17, event times vary
Where: Mass MoCA, 1040 Mass MoCA Way, North Adams
What: Symposium: In The Machine that Makes the Art? Interpretation, Collaboration and Sol LeWitt's Wall Drawings
When: 11 a.m., Saturday, Nov. 17
Who: Lindsay Aveilhe, Susan Cross, Charles W. Haxthausen, Anna Lovatt, Veronica Roberts, and Christopher Vacchio will present, followed by a conversation moderated by curator Alexandra Foradas.
Cost: Free with admission
What: Pop-up stories and performances
When: 1:30 to 4:30 p.m., Saturday, Nov. 17
Where: Sol LeWitt galleries, Building 7
Artists appearing in the galleries:
1:30 p.m. - Karl Larson
1:50 p.m. - John Hogan
2:20 p.m. - Jason Moran
3:20 p.m. - Spencer Finch and Barbara Takenaga
3:35 p.m. - Tigue
4 p.m. - Joe Wardwell and Jeffrey Gibson
4:15 p.m. - Sameer Gupta
Cost: Free with admission
What: Cocktails, dinner and performances
When: 7 p.m., Saturday, Nov. 17
Where: B6 event space
Performances by: Quindar, a project of Wilco's Mikael Jorgensen, and jazz pianist Jason Moran.
Tickets: $150, tickets.massmoca.org