Behind the Scenes: Breaking down walls

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From the February 21, 2013 edition

The Canzani Center Gallery’s upcoming exhibition “Wall” is plastered with important art world names — Sol Lewitt, Nari Ward, Sean Foley and more — but some of the artworks were made by other people than the names listed on the clean white description placards beside them.

The purpose of “Wall” is to partly pay homage to walls, the vertical enclosures that compose every gallery ever, and partly to rebel against them.

“A lot of art has a time share relationship with space,” said the exhibition’s curator Michael Goodson. “Works of art hit this degree of preciousness when they’re passed from gloved hand to gloved hand.”

In contrast, many of the works in “Wall” have touched many hands, none of them likely gloved.

For example, the two works attributed to Lewitt, an American artist who died in 2007 but not before helping shape the conceptual art movement, came to CCAD as a set of instructions. They direct how to create a Lewitt wall drawing, such as performing a particular motion with a graphite pencil for 10 days and voila.

“There’s a certain democratization to works like that,” Goodson said. “Everyone can contribute. The art is not about exercising a skill set that’s out of anyone’s reach.”

While members of the Lewitt estate helped create the artist’s pieces for “Wall,” much of Ward’s “We The People” was made by CCAD staff and students.

The Ward piece is an installation of holes drilled into a wall and filled with dangling shoelaces to spell out the Constitution’s most famous three words, “We the people.” More than 5,500 shoelaces were individually inserted into the small, gaping wall stabs. It took longer than a week to install.

Ward made the original “We The People” from shoelaces given to him by people in his New York neighborhood, where he emigrated from Jamaica. The metaphor of walking a mile in someone else’s shoes is clear, but also important is what the piece says about the accessibility of art.

That can be found not just in “We The People,” but throughout “Wall.”

“In doing these massive, labor-intensive works that we then obliterate in seven weeks is an antidote to [wall art’s] preciousness,” Goodson said.