September 22, 2022 – January 22, 2023
Smart Museum of Art, the University of Chicago, USA
Installation view of Monochrome Multitudes, Smart Museum of Art, the University of Chicago, USA, 2022
Photo: Tyler Mallory
Conceptual artists are mystics rather than rationalists. They leap to conclusions that logic cannot reach. —Sol LeWitt, “Sentences on Conceptual Art,” 1969
Often defying convention, South Korean artist Haegue Yang explores the aesthetics of everyday objects and materials—such as drying racks, turbine vents, spices, and bells—to unlock their formal potential and, on occasion, to reconfigure iconic works of North American and European modernism. Here venetian blinds are dislodged from their typical function as window coverings. Instead, Yang uses her signature material to construct a monumental grid that domesticates the white, open cube sculptures of American artist Sol LeWitt. This installation joins a larger series that “traces” the modular compositions the conceptual artist started in the 1960s: expands or reduces their size, upends their orientation, suspends them from the ceiling or mounts them on the wall. Filling the spaces LeWitt had left open in his sculptures, the sterile white blinds become a permeable monochrome that plays with density and lightness, opacity and transparency. Yang’s blind structures channel these canonic examples of conceptual art, but the artist seeks to restore that movement’s “spiritual aspect” by striving for what she considers a certain “freedom within a narrative freighted with symbolism.”
Mounted on the wall in the Smart Museum’s lobby, Sol LeWitt Upside Down onto Wall – Modular Wall Structure, Expanded 20 Times is particularly poignant given the rectangular shape of the modular structure—it stays the same even when placed upside down. The arrangement of the blinds is contingent and fleeting as they simultaneously reveal and obscure the bright blue wall behind. Per the artist’s specifications for this installation of the artwork, the museum’s exhibition team voted on a selection of blues available at our local paint supplier to choose the shade most similar to French artist Yves Klein’s patented International Klein Blue. Centered on what Yang calls “quasi-Yves Klein Blue,” the quasi-empirical survey—both absurd and precarious—contests Klein’s individualistic legacy to offer a more collective set of relations between artists, museum professionals, and the history of art. Complicating notions of originality, “quasi” is an artistic strategy to relativize the Western canon, to turn it “upside down.” Yang’s layers of citation, expansion, and overturning at once oppose and honor the art historical narratives the West long took for granted.
Sol LeWitt Upside Down onto Wall – Modular Wall Structure, Expanded 20 Times was commissioned for the Monochrome Multitudes exhibition as part of the David and Alfred Smart Museum of Art’s ongoing Threshold series. The exhibition is curated by Orianna Cacchione, Curator of Global Contemporary Art and Lecturer in the Department of Art History, and Christine Mehring, Faculty Adjunct Curator and Mary L. Block Professor of Art History and the College.