Other parts of the contemporary collection, though, make the Colby Museum worth a trip of many miles all by themselves. In particular there are the Richard Serra sculpture at one end of the building and the Sol Lewitt wall drawing at the other end. Both these works provide, if you are willing to be open to them, immediate visceral experience that is supported by a deep conceptual frameworks that are different, a little difficult and rewarding.
The Serra, “4-5-6” (2000), has been in its current spot for a number of years, but the context around it has been changed for the better by the new construction. It is three forged solid blocks of Cor-Ten steel, each of which is the same dimension, four by five by six feet, and each weighing about 30 tons. They are placed on different faces and appear as a result to be different sizes.
Their mass dominates the space, but their size does not. Much of Serra’s work is so large as to be almost threatening, giant curves of thick steel that animate their surroundings but also loom over the viewer. This group of three is, if it can be said of 90 tons of steel, subtle. It is possible to walk by them without paying much attention, but if one does stop, look, touch, and be aware, the space is not only changed; the visitor’s awareness of how space is perceived has changed as well. I’ve seen many Serra pieces up close over the years, and this one is among my favorites.
It is the nature of the late Sol Lewitt’s work that he not only changed our understanding of how art is done and experienced, he did it in a way that opens the process rather than closing it off. We can use what we learn.
Lewitt’s “Wall Drawing #559” dominates the entire east facade of the Lunder wing and can be seen through its glass curtain wall, crossed by staircases to the upper floors. The drawing is a number of concentric bands of ink wash in three different colors, red, yellow, and blue, radiating from the upper corner. It is important to note that Lewitt wall drawings are made by others from instructions written by the artist. This one was made this year — Lewitt died in 2007.
Lewitt not only showed that the critical decisions of a significant work of art can be made very early in the process, but that the result can be can be both profoundly interesting and beautiful. He established an ethos based in a set of principles for these works that doesn’t demand that we do things the same way, but does suggest that we should work to a standard — to know what is important, see what we need for ourselves and our own efforts, and use what we know as the armature for everything we do. It is a lesson in ethics of high value indeed.
THE LUNDER COLLECTION, the Alfond-Lunder Family Pavilion, and other shows | at Colby College Museum of Art, 5600 Mayflower Hill Dr, Waterville | 207.859.5600 | colby.edu/museum