LeWitt is great. I loved an exhibit of his work I saw on the roof garden at the Met in NYC in 2005. I loved the one at the Wadsworth Atheneum. I even made LeWitt cookies which depicted the one we have at my work. And I am sure we all love the installation that we be at MassMoca through 2033. He has a way of cheering up dreary spaces and making you think about the ways lines and shapes connect. His pieces make me feel inspired, like a deep breath of cold, fresh air. It was really a great experience. We arrived at his house, and saw that he has a variety of very interesting outdoor sculpture around the grounds of a regular looking colonial style house in a normal looking neighborhood. Then we went inside. Every room was painted a different bright color on the wall. There were all kinds of very interesting works of art from all kinds of different artists. Every time LeWitt sold a piece to a gallery he bought a piece from that same gallery. He even swapped pieces with other artists. He was also very supportive of women artists as early as the 1960s. All these practices make me think that he was incredibly democratic. He makes art fun, and accessible to all. He also once said that he would exhibit anywhere that asked him, and so ended up showing his work even at libraries and nursing homes. I think that is incredibly inspirational. My favorite work inside the house was a Kiki Smith piece made out of plaster and beeswax. It was a woman's head upside down with her hair extending about 6 feet down to the floor. It was actually plastered into the wall. It was amazing. I loved the variety of art objects and amazing Josef Hoffmann furniture he bought in Vienna. There's something about seeing art displayed in a person's home, arranged the way they actually lived with it (reminded me of Monet's house I visited as a teenager), that feels way more intimate than any museum gallery could ever feel.
Then we walked out to his studio behind the house. He apparently blasted classical music while he worked on his large, colorful wall drawings. He had a bulletin board where he posted ephemera people sent him and things he found interesting. It really gave us a sense of his process. 6 or 7 days a week LeWitt woke up early, got a lot of drawing done, talked on the phone to his assistants, and then had someone drive him to Middletown, CT to go swimming. It was so great to actually be in his studio where it all happened.
Then we went to lunch at the River Tavern. First of all, this town is really adorable. It is totally worth the visit, especially if you go on a trip to Mystic (about half an hour away). Second, this restaurant is a real gem. It was appropriate for us to go to after spending the morning at Sol LeWitt's house because they have LeWitt prints displayed all over the walls. All the food looked amazing (there were 15 of us). They serve locally grown foods made from scratch. I had a BLT, but it was on a baguette with a great crust and had a basil aioli. It was so delicious, and we had a great view of the charming town behind us. Then, one of my coworkers ordered a round of their specialty - "baked to order date pudding with dark rum caramel sauce & whipped cream". Everyone went crazy for it. I read the guest book on the way out and almost every commenter gushed about this particular dessert. All my coworkers agreed it was amazing, even some who don't like dates.
Then we visited the warehouse that houses the rest of the 11,000 objects LeWitt owned that aren't on display at the house. This included a lot of works by him and lots of underrepresented works he collected. They had all kinds of interesting ephemera too, like his childhood drawings.
On the way back, the sun was setting in New Lebanon, NY and Hancock, MA, and people just kept saying "It is so beautiful!" "Look at the beautiful Berkshires!". The director of the art history graduate program, his wife, the education intern, and I all agreed we felt like we had gone on a family road trip. We had some laughs, exchanged some gossip, and me and the education intern even pretended to complain about each other ("Mom!!! She's breathing my air!" "Tell her to stop singing!").
Take home points:
- You have got to love Sol LeWitt - with his colors, his democratic spirit, his work ethic, and his crazy grid obsession. He proves contemporary art can be infused with humanity and personality. Being in his house and studio made me want to work hard and enjoy life (he was also a huge wine connoisseur).
- If you go to Chester, CT go to the River Tavern. Be sure to order the house specialty the date pudding. You won't regret it.
- As I probably mentioned in my intern trip post last year, you can work with people for years and not know very much about them. You can even feel intimidated by them when you see them around town. Then, you can share a road trip with someone, have them offer you half their oatmeal raisin cookie over coffee, share a satisfying lunch, easily find out things you never knew, and all of a sudden you feel like friends.