On Thursday night, the path to the Williams College Museum of Art (WCMA) was lined with beautiful, colorful paper lanterns, inviting students, faculty and members of the community to the first of the museum’s monthly WCMA At Night events.
This month’s event was called “Drawing on the Walls,” an apt title with both figurative and literal significance. The activities were inspired by the art of Sol LeWitt, whose work is currently being exhibited at WCMA as well as at Mass MoCA in a joint collaboration with Yale entitled “Sol LeWitt: A Wall Drawing Retrospective.”
It’s important to get to know LeWitt to put the event into context. LeWitt (1928-2007) was an American artist who helped found the Minimalist movement. He is perhaps best known for his series of wall drawings, of which he made over 1270. However, none of the paintings at WCMA were painted by LeWitt himself; in fact, none of his wall drawings ever were. Instead, LeWitt made over 1270 sets of guidelines: a simple set of instructions for each painting.
In his guidelines he outlined how each painting should be executed, but they are usually ambiguous sets of rules and are created on-site wherever they are to be exhibited – so no two paintings from the same set of instructions are ever alike. They are often painted directly onto the walls and are subsequently destroyed. Most of these wall drawings are comprised of a series of geometric and colorful shapes, bands and lines, created from such diverse mediums as crayon, colored pencil, graphite, ink and acrylic paint. WCMA is currently exhibiting many of these in addition to three-dimensional geometric sculptures, or as LeWitt preferred to call them, structures, involving grids as a common theme.
Upon entering the museum we were given a warm greeting by the museum employees; In the lobby, WCMA provided delicious kebabs, sweets, apple cider, LeWitt-inspired cookies and other refreshments for all guests. Two entry banners also hung in the lobby, vying for the No. 1 spot in a competition for which each guest was invited to vote.
The event, which lasted from 5 p.m. to 9 p.m., offered various forms of entertainment and engagement for the community. Throughout the event, guests were welcome to participate in drawing games, such as carrying out LeWitt-inspired instructions for drawings. In one case, participants drew out their own version of the same set of instructions onto Post-Its, resulting in a huge grid with dozens of interpretations of the same simple guidelines, showcasing firsthand the versatility of LeWitt’s art as a form that “lives on” creatively after his death. The evening was flushed out with live performances by the Contemporary Dance Ensemble and various a cappella groups.
Among the live performers was artist Tony Orrico. Visible immediately upon entering the museum, Orrico was engaged in his own wall drawing in pencil. He is no ordinary graphite artist: Orrico, a former dancer and a choreographer, combines live performance with his visual art to create organic and bilateral works. He does this using his arms: Charcoal in each hand, Orrico moves his arms simultaneously and rhythmically in a series of scribbles, swirls and swoops to create a massive, symmetrical design. The work he carried out at WCMA resembled a brain-like figure, similar to other works in his Penwald Drawings, a series of ideas that Orrico has painted live across the world. He carried out the drawings vigorously and with precision, never looking away from the paper or breaking concentration. His movements were precise and spontaneous at the same time, lending a possessed quality to his performance.
The night ended with a dance party and “LeWittian” light show, during which there was a performance by DJ Elixer featuring DJ Iamsam. The event was a fun and engaging way to bring the College community at large closer to the art community on campus. The incredible efforts of both students and faculty to host it paid off, and students should keep an eye out for next month’s iteration of WCMA at Night.