Sol LeWitt (American, Hartford, Connecticut 1928
- 2007 Chester, Connecticut
49 Three-Part Variations on Three Different Kinds of Cubes, 1967-71
Enamel on steel
49 units, each: 23 5/8 x 7 7/8 x 7 7/8 in. (60 x 20 x 20 cm)
Fund for Contemporary Art, 1972
Sol LeWitt's 49 Three-Part Variations on Three Different Kinds of Cubes is the three-dimensional realization of a predetermined concept. The total number of variations and the arrangement of cubes in each unit were governed not by intuitive aesthetic decisions, but by mathematical logic.
"In conceptual art, the idea or concept is the most important aspect of the work."1 LeWitt made this statement in his "Paragraphs on Conceptual Art," which appeared in Artforum in 1967, the same year that he made the first version of the Three-Part Variations on Three Different Kinds of Cubes. According to LeWitt, the ideas underlying conceptual art "need not be complex," and for multiple modular works he advocated using a simple form: "The form itself is of very limited importance; it becomes the grammar for the total work. In fact, it is best that the basic unit be deliberately uninteresting so that it may more easily become an intrinsic part of the entire work."2
For the Three-Part Variations on Three Different Kinds of Cubes, the basic vocabulary consists of the three types of cubes: solid cube, cube with opposite sides removed, and cube with one side removed. The variations represent all possible different three-part combinations of the types of cubes, vertical arrangements, and orientations.
The solid cube is unchanged by its orientation, the cube with opposite sides removed appears in two orientations, with either front and back, or left and right sides removed, and the cube with one side removed appears in four different orientations, with left, right, front or back removed. Thus, the solid cube appears the least often, while the cube with one side removed appears the most. Many variations are based on combinations of cubes oriented in different directions, but if an entire stack is rotated or inverted no new combination is created.3 The stacks are placed in eight rows with between six and eight stacks in each row. Within many of the rows, cubes of a particular kind predominate, thus emphasizing the variations possible with that type of cube.
The Three-Part Variations on Three Different Kinds of Cubes has appeared in a number of different forms: drawings presented on single sheets of paper, drawings reproduced in book form, and three-dimensional works made to different scales. None of these manifestations can be understood as the work itself; rather, each is a different physical realization of the same underlying idea. According to LeWitt, "The idea itself, even if not made visual, is as much a work of art as any finished product," and when a work is made in three dimensions, the material in which the work is realized should not draw attention to itself, so as to "engage the mind of the viewer rather than his eye or emotions."4 Although certain of LeWitt's structures resemble Minimalist sculpture in that they are fabricated using industrial techniques and materials, the underlying idea is different than the serial repetition of "one thing after another" advocated by Donald Judd as a way of escaping traditional sculptural composition.5
The catalogue for Sol LeWitt's 1978 exhibition at the Museum of Modern Art refers to two sculptural versions of the work: 47 Three-Part Variations on Three Different Kinds of Cubes (1967; exhibited at the Dwan gallery in 1968), which was fabricated in aluminum and then subsequently destroyed; and All Three-Part Variations on Three Different Kinds of Cubes(1969), with fifty-six units, fabricated in steel in 1974.6
The Oberlin 49 Three-Part Variations on Three Different Kinds of Cubes falls between these two versions. The arrangement of the eight rows follows the order and structure of LeWitt's book, 49 Three-Part Variations Using Three Different Kinds of Cubes, 1967-68.7 The scale of the Oberlin version is smaller than either of the other three-dimensional works. Furthermore, the individual units in the Oberlin work are free-standing, whereas the other versions presented each row on a single base.
LeWitt has stated that "Each row is autonomous and can function independently of the entire piece while still implying the other rows," and the final version of the work, All Three-Part Variations on Three Different Kinds of Cubes, has in fact been dispersed, with each row sold separately.8 In the Oberlin version, the forty-nine variations known at the time the work was conceived are displayed together.
Work (C) 1998 Sol LeWitt/ Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York
LeWitt was born 9 September 1928 in Hartford, Connecticut. He received a B.F.A. in 1949 from Syracuse University. After serving in the U.S. Army in Japan and Korea in 1951-52, he moved to New York in 1952. From 1960 to 1965 he worked at the Museum of Modern Art, primarily at the Information and Book Sales Desk, and from 1964 to 1971 he also taught part-time at different art schools in New York City. LeWitt had his first solo exhibition at the Daniels Gallery, New York, in 1965. In 1966 he had the first of a series of solo exhibitions at the Dwan Gallery, and in 1968 he had five solo exhibitions at different galleries in the United States and Europe. LeWitt also participated in a number of significant Minimalist and Conceptual Art group exhibitions during the late sixties and early seventies, including Primary Structures, at the Jewish Museum, New York, 1966; When Attitude Becomes Form, at the Kunsthalle Bern, Switzerland, 1969; and Information, at The Museum of Modern Art, New York, 1970.
LeWitt's use of the open cube dates to 1965, and by 1966 he had begun combining the modular cubes in various serial forms, as he described in his 1966 statement "Serial Project No. 1 (ABCD)." LeWitt further elaborated his ideas concerning the use of relatively simple units or modules combined according to a present plan in his 1967 "Paragraphs on Conceptual Art," and his 1969 "Sentences on Conceptual Art." In 1968 LeWitt also began to develop the principles used in his wall drawings, and he described these principles in statements published in 1970 and 1971.
In his work since the seventies, LeWitt has continued to explore different forms of drawing and sculpture based on the use of a predetermined plan or process of application.
Legg, Alicia, ed. Sol LeWitt. Exh. cat., The Museum of Modern Art, New York, 1978 [includes LeWitt's published statements from the late sixties and early seventies].
Sol LeWitt: Wall Drawings, 1968-84. Exh. cat., Stedelijk Museum, Amsterdam, 1984.
Sol LeWitt Drawings 1958-1992. Exh. cat., Haags Gemeentemuseum, The Hague, 1992.
Zevi, Adachira, ed. Sol LeWitt: Critical Texts. Rome, 1996.
With the John Weber Gallery, New York, from whom purchased in November 1972
Rochester, N.Y., Memorial Art Gallery of the University of Rochester, 1972. Art Without Limit. 7 April - 7 May. No cat.
Johnson, Ellen H. Modern Art and the Object. New York, 1976, p. 4, fig. 58.
Johnson, Ellen H. "American Art of the Twentieth Century." Apollo 103, no. 168 (February 1976), p. 131 ill.
Work as a whole:
Siegel, Jeanne. "Sol LeWitt: 46 Variations Using 3 Different Kinds of Cubes." Arts Magazine 42, no. 4 (February 1968), p. 57 (review of the Dwan Gallery exhibition).
Tucker, Marcia. "Sol LeWitt." Art News 66, no. 10 (February 1968), p. 14 (review of the Dwan Gallery exhibition).
Brown, Gordon. "Month in Review." Arts Magazine 42, no. 5 (March 1968), p. 53 (reference to the Dwan Gallery exhibition).
Krauss, Rosalind. "Sol LeWitt, Dwan Gallery." Artforum 6, no. 8 (April 1968), pp. 57-58 (review of the Dwan Gallery exhibition).
LeWitt, Sol. 49 Three-Part Variations Using Three Different Kinds of Cubes, 1967-68. Zurich, 1969.
Sol LeWitt. Exh. cat., Haags Gemeentemuseum, The Hague, 1970, p. 42 (reproduction of the drawing for the Dwan Gallery version of the work).
Lippard, Lucy R. Six Years: The Dematerialization of the Art Object from 1966 to 1972. New York and Washington, D.C., 1973, p. 42 (installation photograph of the Dwan Gallery exhibition of the earlier version of the work, and reference to the artist's book by Sol LeWitt).
Legg, Alicia, ed. Sol LeWitt. Exh. cat., The Museum of Modern Art, New York, 1978, pp. 74-75 (installation photograph of the Dwan Gallery exhibition of the earlier version of the work, and drawing for the final version of the work).
Schwartz, E. "Catching Conceptual Art by the Tail." Art News 77 (April 1978), pp. 106-7 (review of Museum of Modern Art retrospective; reproduction of the drawing for the final version of the work).
Colpitt, Frances. Minimal Art: The Critical Perspective. Ann Arbor, and London, 1990, pp. 10, 62, pl. 39 (photograph of the Dwan Gallery exhibition).
Parsy, Paul-Hervé. Art Minimal. Centre Georges Pompidou, Paris, 1992, p. 27 (photograph of the Dwan Gallery exhibition).
Sol LeWitt Drawings 1958-1992. Exh. cat., Haags Gemeentemuseum, The Hague, 1992, fig. 87 (reproduction of the drawing for the final version of the work).
The forty-nine units are made of steel, welded to form stacks of open and closed cubes, and painted in off-white semi-gloss enamel paint. The units were fabricated in 1971 by Treitel and Gratz, New York, according to the artist's instructions.
Although the units are structurally sound, the paint surface is flawed as a result of insufficient preparation of the steel before painting. There are rust stains, flaking, scratches, marks, and abrasion, as well as visible inpainting.
1. Sol LeWitt, "Paragraphs on Conceptual Art," Artforum 5 (Summer 1967), p. 80.
2. Sol LeWitt, "Paragraphs on Conceptual Art," Artforum 5 (Summer 1967), p. 80. LeWitt has used the cube, both open and closed, as the basic unit for various works, including his Seven-Part Variations on Two Different Kinds of Cubes(1968), Three Variations Using Open Cubes Only (1967-69), and Three-Part Variations Using Each Kind of Cube Once(1968).
3. Rosalind Krauss ("Sol LeWitt," Artforum 6, no. 8 [April 1968], pp. 57-58) discussed this issue in her review of the Dwan Gallery installation.
4. Sol LeWitt, "Paragraphs on Conceptual Art," Artforum 5 (Summer 1967), p. 83.
5. Donald Judd, "Specific Objects," Arts Yearbook 8 (1965), p. 82. LeWitt specifically disavowed any connection to Minimalist art in his "Paragraphs on Conceptual Art."
6. In the first version, made in aluminum and subsequently destroyed (by LeWitt because of fabrication problems), the individual elements were each 114.3 x 38.1 x 38.1 cm; in the steel version of 1974 the individual elements were each 152.4 x 50.8 x 50.8 cm. See Sol LeWitt, ed. Alicia Legg (exh. cat., The Museum of Modern Art, New York, 1978), p. 75. In the announcement for the exhibition and most of the reviews, the Dwan gallery work is identified as having forty-six variations; however, in the photographs of the Dwan gallery installation there are forty-seven units visible; see Lucy R. Lippard, Six Years: The Dematerialization of the Art Object from 1966 to 1972(New York and Washington, D.C., 1973), p. 42. The total number of variations increased as LeWitt discovered more possibilities, with fixty-six as the final number included in All Three-Part Variations on Three Different Kinds of Cubes.
7. Sol LeWitt, 49 Three-Part Variations Using Three Different Kinds of Cubes, 1967-68(Zurich, 1969). In a conversation with the author, 12 September 1996, LeWitt indicated that the Oberlin work was fabricated by Treitel and Gratz of New York, and that it was probably fabricated not long before it was purchased by the museum in 1972. The loan agreement for the 1972 exhibition at the Memorial Art Gallery of the University of Rochester, filled out by the John Weber Gallery in 1971, lists the date of the work as 1967-71, thus confirming that the work was fabricated in 1971.
8. Commentary by LeWitt in Sol LeWitt, ed. Alicia Legg (exh. cat., The Museum of Modern Art, New York, 1978), p. 75. A 1971 letter in the Allen Memorial Art Museum files from Athena Tacha, then the Curator of Modern Art, indicates that the museum initially explored the possibility of purchasing the row labeled Series 1 2 3 from the original version exhibited at the Dwan Gallery, before deciding to purchase the small, complete version from the John Weber Gallery in 1972.