Looking in through the window of Rhona Hoffman Gallery, a passersby may notice a spare concrete block structure, four feet tall by eight feet wide, constructed inside the narrow space. It reads as an unadorned and unassuming blank wall, and as such, doesn’t do much to entice pedestrians to enter the gallery. But once you're inside, this flat wall reveals itself to have dimensionality, transforming into a squat cube with an eroded center that suggests a kind of miniature, stair-stepped amphitheater. This is Sol LeWitt’s Negative Pyramid (1997). Like much of his work, what appears at first glance to be a simple formal construction is actually a conceptual piece that embodies a more complex set of ideas—in this case, notions of monumentality and temporality.
LeWitt’s construction serves as the focal point of an exhibition aptly titled “Sol LeWitt: Concrete Block Structure,” which also features his Wall Drawing 664 (1990). The gallery pairs LeWitt (1928–2007) with minimalist artist Fred Sandback (1943–2003), whose works are featured in the complementary exhibition, “Sculptures.”
During their lifetimes, LeWitt and Sandback (both deceased) created works that were meant to be temporary. However, many of these pieces continue to be resurrected, as both artists left behind sets of instructions with their respective estates. For Rhona Hoffman, trained technicians re-created the LeWitt and Sandback works, conceived years earlier when both artists were still alive.
The Sandback sculptures attest to the power of suggestion. The word “sculpture” typically implies solidity and mass. But rather than use conventional materials (such as wood, stone or metal), Sandback chose something more ephemeral: yarn. In his works, yarn acts as a kind of three-dimensional line. By stretching a series of these “lines” from floor to ceiling, he suggests planes which in turn suggest volumes. His Untitled (Two-part Vertical Construction) from 1976—made from orange and yellow yarn—explores solid/void relationships in the most minimal of terms. This level of minimalism might not resonate with all viewers, but Sandback’s efforts to push the envelope—and question our preconceptions of sculpture—can be admired.
Both shows are effective at linking Sandback’s and LeWitt’s works to common interests, specifically both artists’ embrace of modules, proportions and humble materials. But the main intellectual undercurrent explores notions of physical temporality vis-à-vis the longevity of ideas. Even LeWitt’s Negative Pyramid, despite its heavy masonry construction, is meant to be temporary. It will be taken down and perhaps reconstructed at another site at another time—or perhaps not. All the more reason to experience it now.