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Art on the Courthouse Wall

A work in progress:

Sol LeWitt in the Smith College Museum of Art

After a month during which artists worked full-time six days a week, applying multiple coats of paint according to specific instructions, the U.S. Federal Courthouse in Springfield, Mass., has a new mural on a third-floor interior wall.

Following a set of instructions and drawing created by the late artist Sol LeWitt, a leader in conceptual art, Carl Caivano, a visiting lecturer in the art department, joined four Smith students and an alumna, as well as three other Five College students, in painting the mural in the recently built courthouse, located at 300 State St.

The black-and-white work, titled “Wall Drawing #1259 Loopy Doopy,” is the last piece commissioned by LeWitt before his death last year. The finished mural measures 230 feet wide by 19 feet high. 

“The drawing by Sol LeWitt was specific and only modified slightly to make all the lines flow as he would have wanted,” said Caivano. “His instructions were to make any changes necessary to keep the whole thing fluid.”

Like LeWitt’s “Wall Drawing #139,” which was installed at the Smith College Museum of Art in January, the courthouse mural existed only as a series of instructions, along with a small-scale drawing, until it was painted.

“LeWitt believed that the idea behind a work of art is more important than its execution,” explained Aprile Gallant, curator of prints, drawings and photos at the Museum of Art. “To that end, the artist created many works that took the form of detailed instructions that could be completed by anyone and at any time in any place.”

“Wall Drawing #139” was installed by Roland Lusk, a draftsman from LeWitt’s New York studio, with the assistance of three Smith students.

Caivano and the Springfield group of artists began following LeWitt’s instructions on February 18, preparing the courthouse wall, attaching string along the space in a specified grid pattern, drawing lines and applying tape.

Then came the paint—more than 20 gallons of it by the time it was finished. After five coats of black paint and four gallons of white to create lines, the piece was completed this week.

“As an artist, having a work by a major figure in the conceptual art movement on a courthouse in Springfield is significant,” commented Caivano, “from a cultural standpoint but also from a civic standpoint, in that people who use the building will be interacting with a very vivid, arresting and unexpected image.”

As might be expected, the mural attracted the attention of people working in and frequenting the building, Caivano said. “There have been several tours by judges, lawyers, government people and the media,” he said. “The construction workers have been interested and seem to have changed from mildly curious to supportive. The response has been very positive.”

Though Caivano and his fellow artists had detailed instructions and a scale drawing to follow, the work was not always easy, he said. He and the students typically worked in shifts from 9 a.m. to 4 p.m., often standing for hours at a time on scaffolding up to 19 feet off the ground, navigating constant challenges with the work space.

It’s all in the name of art, and in the case of the Springfield Courthouse, for a final public tribute to an artist that repeatedly broke new ground while deflecting attention away from his own celebrity.

“For all of our difficulties, including working high up with a difficult site, our crew is very excited by the results,” Caivano said. 

3/20/08   By Eric Sean Weld
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