Sol LeWitt: Not to Be Sold for More Than $100
(Radius Books, 2020)
Sol LeWitt: Folds & Rips
(Walther König, 2020)
Sol LeWitt is primarily known for his large instruction-based line wall drawings, his colorful wall gouaches, and his influence on artist publishing and bookmaking. But a lesser known aspect of his practice draws on the same interest in seriality, geometry, and playful instruction: his work with folds and rips—single pages made multiple by the simple act of creasing or tearing, changing the landscape of the paper. Numbering in the hundreds, these works were made on plain white sheets, colored pages, and later maps and aerial photographs of New York City. Two new oversized books—Sol LeWitt: Not to Be Sold for More Than $100 published by Radius, a thick hardcover characteristic of the imprint’s elegant monographs and photobooks, and Sol LeWitt: Folds & Rips published by Walther König, a floppy softcover filled with cataloguing details and a heavily researched essay, tackle the task of documenting and contextualizing this extensive body of work that the artist referred to under the umbrella of “drawings.”
While both books are illustrated with detailed captions, provenance information, and scholarly essays, each takes a slightly different approach. Not to Be Sold for More Than $100 is particularly visual, with large reproductions and details of LeWitt’s handwriting and folded edges. Typical of Radius’s publishing, it also includes sliced pages in the book, reproducing the technique it describes. It treats the folded and ripped works (which includes the cut maps and aerial images) as a single body of work, contextualizing the development with an essay by curator Veronica Roberts and an introduction by one of LeWitt’s former assistants Jason Rulnick. It offers an important overview of this practice and concludes with a “Typology” section meant to illustrate the specific aspects of the different types of “$100 drawings” with detailed analysis of a few examples of each.
In contrast to the depth but limited scope of the Radius book, Folds & Rips offers a large overview of this practice from 1966–1980 by cataloguing this body of work with an index that lists date, technique, size, inscription, provenance and current location (if known), and bibliography. However, most of the images are thumbnails with caption info, rather than lush full-page reproductions. The essay running throughout, by curator and writer Dieter Schwarz, discusses each type of work separately, moving from the earliest folded works, to the ripped works, and then the ripped/cut and crumbled maps. The essay is exhaustive, but much more focused on factual detail than visual analysis. Schwarz is practical, offering connections between these bodies of work, the economics of art making, and other artists who may have been engaged in conceptually or formally similar practices such as John Chamberlain or On Kawara. Both books certainly make their case that the Rip and Fold Drawings deserve the attention of two books, and many more.
The first folded work may seem like an accident, a folded invitation for a group show at Park Place Gallery, NY (1966). As Chelsea Weathers writes in “Typology,” “By folding the announcement, LeWitt claims an object printed for another purpose as his own, and catalyzes the potential of the fold as line, grid, and conceptual plan.” The architecture of this body of work—Folds, Rips, and cut maps—draws directly on LeWitt’s interest in geometry and lines. As one of the chapters in Schwartz’s essay claims, these works are “Drawing without Drawing.” The majority are simple, minimalist gestures, such as a 1971 folded work: a square white sheet of paper folded to create 16 squares with LeWitt’s neat “S. LeWitt February 17, 1971” printed in the bottom right, a lovely detail of which is included in the Radius book. As Schwartz writes, “The lines, not drawn but created by the material itself, are located in the paper’s surface.” Even the rips, in a way, read similarly as geometric interventions. As Veronica Roberts writes in her essay for the Radius book, LeWitt “describes the folds and rips as other ways of making lines (and grids) without a pencil.” Rip drawing R 88 (1973) is a square piece of white paper about a foot long in each direction, divided into 6 pieces in a wedge pattern, like slices of pizza. The tears are not sharp, but rather fragile wavy lines. Roberts connects these “not-straight lines” with LeWitt’s friendship with Eva Hesse, an artist who regularly used the wavy line in her work.
The fact that his first fold was an invitation card also emphasizes these as objects of correspondence. Both books reference this aspect of the work. As LeWitt noted in his Archives of American Art oral history interview, “I used to just give them away to friends. I never really wanted to do them as a major kind of work […] I want to keep this a private kind of thing; that’s why I want them to be sold as cheaply as possible.” With the names of receivers and dates of making inscribed in delicate pencil at the bottom, these works have an aspect of correspondence art to them; a diaristic quality akin somewhat to the daily record keeping of On Kawara (noted in the König book, as well as his datebook used for record keeping represented in both). The Radius book offers lovely details of many of the works, showcasing this handwritten touch. Manila off-white rectangular paper torn into five slices horizontally, R 54 (1972) shows the number circled in the bottom right with “For Petra/Sol LeWitt 7.7.72.” Others were gifted to dealers and friends, such as a piece made for artist John Baldessari that, as both books recount, was carelessly mistaken for trash and discarded by the framers, resulting in LeWitt transforming the apology letter into a new folded work and mailing it back to Baldessari as a replacement. Though mostly made on plain papers, until the maps and aerial photographs, in the early years he also made folded works out of tax forms, newspapers, exhibition announcements, and an art & project bulletin—all of which would travel by mail or be transferred between people.
Another important aspect of these works that connects them to LeWitt’s larger practice is the instructional component. In this case, the Radius book’s details and enlarged illustrations go a long way in showing this painstaking practice of handwritten instructions. For example, the ripped piece, R 208 (1974), a white square paper with a center square cut out, includes the text across the bottom:
A PAGE WITH AN AREA BETWEEN A POINT HALFWAY BETWEEN THE CENTER OF THE PAGE & THE UPPER LEFT CORNER, THE CENTER OF THE PAGE AND THE LOWER LEFT CORNER, THE CENTER OF THE PAGE AND THE LOWER RIGHT CORNER, AND THE CENTER OF THE PAGE AND THE UPPER RIGHT CORNER REMOVED. Sol LeWitt 11/18/74 R208
Both books offer superb details of LeWitt’s writings on this drawing. Such a lengthy and almost unintelligible way to describe simply cutting out the center square. Roberts notes that LeWitt called these instructions, present on both the folds and rips, “my poetry.” Some of the later pieces, when LeWitt breaks with keeping his text along the edges and instead decides to run it along his rips, are especially dynamic, such as R 215 (1974), a bright yellow ripped drawing featuring the text along the rip, “a rip from a point halfway between the midpoint of the top side and the upper left corner to a point halfway between that point and the center of the page” then in the bottom right as always, “Sol LeWitt R 215 11/30/74,” leaving the text floating in the center of the page emphasizing the rip.
Not to Be Sold for More Than $100 and Folds & Rips highlight different aspects of LeWitt’s fold and rip drawings, but share in reclaiming this practice as an important part of the artist’s creative output. Radius treats the work as visual objects and König as a body of work to be documented and placed in a historical context. Together, they leave readers wanting even more books on these ephemeral and possibly lost creased and torn slips of paper.