The story behind a new Sol LeWitt mural

Six years after the artist's death, another LeWitt mural is going up in Manhattan. How did that happen?

In 1968, the American artist Sol LeWitt devised a new system of drawing. As we explain in our book, Conceptual Art, these works were applied directly onto walls and executed by others, following a set of LeWitt's instructions. The directions are pretty easy to follow. Here are some from 1971, courtesy of MoMA's site:

"Using a black hard crayon, draw a twenty inch square. Divide this square into one-inch squares. Within each on inch square, draw nothing, or draw a diagonal straight line from corner to corner or two crossing straight lines diagonally from corner to corner."

Sounds simple, no? Yet LeWitt preferred to employ assistants to do his large-scale work; "I started out doing everything myself, but then the projects got too big," he said - adding, the workers "do it much better than I do."


The artist passed away in 2007, yet his instructions are still being carried out, most recently at The Jewish Community Center on the Upper West Side of Manhattan. There, professional installers are finishing off a version of LeWitt's 1989 creation, Wall Drawing #599: Circles 18. This picture - a kind of multicoloured pop roundel - apparently required "20 sheets of sandpaper, four yards of cotton rags, a quart of acrylic paint, five plastic buckets and countless gallons of water" to render it onto the center's reception wall. Its unveiling will be accompanied by a show at the center's Laurie M Tisch Gallery.


Wall Drawing #599: Circles 18 (1989) by Sol LeWitt
Wall Drawing #599: Circles 18 (1989) by Sol LeWitt

The paper notes there is no shortage of LeWitt murals in Manhattan. Yet surely another, simple, bright design is better than a plain white wall? Then again, can we regard this new installation as a LeWitt original, executed following his instructions? For simple pictures, this is knotty stuff. Learn more about this new mural here, find out more about LeWitt's practices in our aforementioned Conceptual Art book, and for more on site specific art in the Americas, please take a look at our forthcoming book, Art and Place. Buy either of these titles, and you'll gain points via our exclusive Phaidon Club which you can find out more about here.