Film Review: Sol LeWitt

Artist documentary lives up to its subject with skillful handling and insightful ideas.

American-born Sol LeWitt may not be a household name outside of the art world, but his impact has been deeply felt. Dutch filmmaker Chris Teerink’s portrait of the late conceptual artist highlights LeWitt’s works and the behind-the-scenes effort that has gone into creating them. Though not dissimilar to other documentaries about artists, Sol LeWitt somehow feels much fresher and more original than those other productions and will hopefully catch on beyond fine-art enthusiasts.

Teerink does not delve very much into the sturm und drang of LeWitt’s life (1928-2007)—assuming there was any sturm und drang—which, in a refreshing way, sets his film apart from those aforementioned features. Where Sol LeWitt stays somewhat conventional in its presentation is in its cross-cutting between shots of the installations, sculptures and designs that comprise the bulk of the LeWitt canon and the interviews with friends and colleagues who knew him best. Most illuminating of all is the voiceover by camera-shy LeWitt himself, from one of his few recorded interviews (conducted by Paul Cummings in 1974).

Over a brisk 72 minutes, we hear how this contemporary artist wanted his art to speak for itself, which is probably why many would not know LeWitt by name: He deliberately made himself obscure, even refusing prestigious awards. In fact, there is very little footage and only a few still photos of LeWitt, yet Teerink fills the running time with plenty of shots (mostly tableaux-style) of his abstract constructions, both those in museums and those in parks and other outdoor venues. Some are more arresting than others—the fancifully neon-colored pieces are actually oft-putting, while the darker, more complex monochromatic creations are superior examples of Minimalism. We also get to see his drawings, wall drawings, prints, photos and paintings. If Teerink could be faulted, it is for being too laudatory about everything LeWitt produced.

It has become more than a cliché to assert that a deceased artist lives on through his or her work. Yet, at least in this case, the fact that a team of artists and builders constructed in 2011 an awesome LeWitt wall drawing (Wall Drawing #801) in posthumous tribute demonstrates before our eyes, during the film’s climax, that the cliché is correct!

Just as well-constructed is Sol LeWitt, the movie.

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