Mass MoCA tacks 10 years onto LeWitt exhibition's stay

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NORTH ADAMS — Sol LeWitt's beloved towering wall drawings, which many consider to be the nerve center of the Massachusetts Museum of Contemporary Art, will be sticking around for 10 years longer than initially planned, museum board Chair Timur Galen announced Saturday, at the installation's 10-year anniversary celebration.

LeWitt's 105 murals, which were installed in 2008, originally were planned to be displayed for 25 years.

"To mark the 10th anniversary and to celebrate, in a way, the Building 6 expansion, we set the clock back to start the 25 years all over again," Mass MoCA Director Joseph C. Thompson said Friday.

LeWitt, 78, who died in April 2007, after a prolonged battle with cancer, first began planning the exhibition after a visit to Mass MoCA in 2003. His vision quickly became a 27,000-square-foot, three-floor installation in Building 7 featuring 105 of his wall drawings.

The original idea was to keep the installation, which is on loan to the museum from Yale University, long enough that it felt "quasi-permanent," Thompson said.

"All of us who organized it were quite confident that this would be something enduring and a milestone in art history," he said.

When the installation first opened, it might have been on the periphery of the museum, but after the expansion, it became "its very heart" Thompson said.

Artists, admirers and many draftspeople of LeWitt's internationally known works were among the more than 1,100 visitors at the museum Saturday. Many of them participated in the conversations and musical performances to honor the late artist.

LeWitt's wife, Carol, nodded along as John Hogan, LeWitt's principal draftsperson from 1982 to his death, talked about her husband's trust in artists to carry out his concepts across the world.

LeWitt, who was seldom at the galleries or museums while artists were installing his large-scale pieces, had faith in men and women he never had met to execute his ideas, said Hogan, who met LeWitt in the 1970s.

More than 2,000 artists have come and gone to Mass MoCA over the years to work on LeWitt's 105 drawings, he said.

LeWitt would create the original drawings, which would then be sent, usually by fax, to artists around the world who would install the large-scale pieces at museums and galleries by following his specifications.

LeWitt, Hogan said, was sometimes asked if artists ever "got something wrong" with his initial plans.

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LeWitt refused to ever say it was an artist who erred, but rather that they might not have understood the original idea. He constantly was tweaking the language of the installation instructions to be clearer, Hogan said.

Peggy Cyphers, a painter from New York City, wandered around the LeWitt installation remembering the artist she first met when she was 25 years old. She later worked on his collections.

LeWitt, she said, was a "peaceful, generous man" who was supportive of younger artists. He was known to create original pieces of art and give them to those he knew. He also created drawings on postcards from places he traveled to and sent them to friends.

LeWitt would buy stacks of postcards, go to a bar in whatever city he was working, and draw on them, Carol LeWitt said. Then he would shuffle through his address book and look for people he hadn't talked to in a while and send the postcard to keep in touch, she said. There also were regular recipients he would send the cards to, she said.

"He was a very emotionally balanced and generous person," LeWitt said of her husband. "He was very sure of himself."

LeWitt would collect art created by female artists and consider them his peers, which, his wife said, was not always the case in the 1960s and 1970s.

"It's a very important part of his legacy," she said.

In one gallery, visitors surrounded pianist Karl Larson of Brooklyn, who performed a piece of music inspired by LeWitt's work.

"It's all about permutations," Larson, 33, said of the song "Still Life."

Matt Evans, a drummer who wrote "Still Life" for Larson, said he often is inspired by visual arts to write music and finds it "abstract" to use one medium to create another.

Larson believes he has performed at Mass MoCA 150 times.

"Everything else here has changed, but this has remained," Larson said, looking up at LeWitt's work.

"The fact that this one day won't be here is really insane," Evans said, several hours before the announcement of the extension.

Haven Orecchio-Egresitz can be reached at horecchio@berkshireeagle.com, @HavenEagle on Twitter and 413-770-6977.


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