Sol LeWitt, Kiki Smith, Martin Puryear, Robert Cottingham and others
Lines in Four Directions Over 450 Years
January 14, 2023 - April 22, 2023
“Lines in Four Directions over 450 Years” explores the conceptual, formal, and social aspects of one particular technique from a contemporary perspective. As such, the collection of 28 works by 26 artists hang together on one wall as the latest iteration of Krakow Witkin Gallery’s “One Wall, One Work.” The unifying characteristic in the group is “hatching,” a technique used in Western drawing and printmaking mostly from the 1300’s and on. Hatching uses closely spaced parallel lines and, traditionally, it provides an image with depth, shade, and/or tone. “Crosshatching” uses another set of parallel lines which overlap or cross the hatching to provide further variations in shading. In the late 1960’s, Sol LeWitt used the technique of crosshatching and isolated it from its illustrative purpose. This provided him a visual vocabulary with endless and powerful iterative potential. With LeWitt’s work as inspiration, Krakow Witkin Gallery’s presentation explores differences between artists, techniques, and time periods, all while highlighting issues of equality, innovation, power, and space.
The particular, visual impetus for the exhibition began with two of LeWitt’s works, as well as two other artists’ works. A brief description of each of these works is below:
• Sol LeWitt
Two line etchings from 1971 by LeWitt are examples of the artist’s use of regular and hand-drawn “lines in four directions” (vertical, horizontal, diagonal/left, and diagonal/right lines). The combination of lines used in these works was an “imagery” that LeWitt became engaged with by 1965 as he was then using the four types of lines to make construction diagrams for and drawings of his three-dimensional structures. By 1968, he was exploring the lines purely in two dimensions (no longer using them only for representing something in three dimensions). He made drawings of layered and juxtaposed lines in various combinations (first publicly seen in the now seminal “Xerox Book” and soon thereafter in his first wall drawing). By 1971, this imagery was iconic for LeWitt. One of the two etchings on view shows a progression of layers of the lines, from one to four. The second consists ‘only’ of a field of all four directions of lines overlayed. Importantly, LeWitt found both approaches equally important. Through the combination of imagery where all line directions are important and the seriality where all variations are equal, LeWitt presented visually compelling works that are statements about egalitarianism (not a surprising theme from an artist who consistently supported and championed artists of many different backgrounds).
• Diana Scultori
Scultori was among the first women, ca. 1575, to get a Papal Privilege to sell her prints in Rome (a “Papal Privilege” was a legal situation that helped her sell her work without fear of what would later be called copyright infringement). This narrative is, in and of itself, compelling as it paints a picture of a smart, strong, independent, and talented woman in 1500’s Rome. To add to the background of the work currently on view, it is not definitively known whether the subject matter is “Esther seated at a table to the left speaking with Ahasuerus and Haman” or “Aspasia, Socrates, and another philosopher.” Having multiple readings of the imagery in the print is significant. The alignment of Esther (a queen who calls a sly villain to task) with Aspasia (a philosopher and teacher) provides the protagonists with mutual support in unsupportive social structures of both the narratives’ time periods and Scultori’s. Perhaps Scultori left the narrative open-ended so that multiple meanings could be mutually beneficial? This approach is, in a way, similar, if one can think abstractly, to the layers of LeWitt’s lines. Along with this conceptual alignment, there is a visual one, too. Scultori primarily used straight parallel lines in various overlapping ways to create her imagery. In many of the planar areas of the image, one can see etching rather similar to that of LeWitt’s.
• Jacques Villon
Villon, in the 21st century, is primarily known as the brother of Marcel Duchamp. At the famed 1913 Armory Show, all of Villon’s work sold and for a time thereafter, the brothers were almost equally famous. With that said, Villon, in addition to being a painter and designing the famed stained glass for the cathedral in Metz, was also an accomplished printmaker who brought the language of Cubism to a print-collecting audience. He called his linear imagery, “constructive decomposition.” This ‘decomposition’ used just straight lines in various combinations so as to create both legible imagery as well as a firm balance among the foreground, background, and all areas in between. Much like LeWitt (or perhaps it should be said in reverse…), Villon created compositions with no hierarchy of gestures.
In addition to these artists’ works, the topic of heraldry (the system by which coats of arms are devised, described, and regulated) plays a key roll in the formation of the exhibited collection. In the history of heraldry, lines in four directions (along with other combinations, patterns, etc.) were used in monochromatic representations to indicate what a “full-color” emblazon would be (accessible, multi-color printing would come hundreds of years later). Various charts from the 1700’s (and forward) are exhibited as elegant, ordered examples of combination and variation.
The collection began by putting the above works together and then spending the next few years slowly assembling a family of works that could live together and expand on the works’ conversations, both visually and conceptually. The full list of artists included are George Aikman, Cherubino Alberti, Cornelis Bloemaert, Louis Jacques Cathelin, William Charles, Daniel Nicolaus Chodowiecki, Robert Cottingham, Henri Fantin-Latour, Gego, Pieter Holdsteijn the Younger, William Hogarth, Käthe Kollwitz, Sol LeWitt, Mortimer Menpes, Thomas Milton, Crispin De Passe the Younger, Martin Puryear, Guido Reni, Adamo Scultori, Diana Scultori, Kiki Smith, Henry Ossawa Tanner, David Teniers the Younger, and Jacques Villon, along with two that are unidentified at the present time.