BY Ralf Christofori in Reviews | 07 JUN 04

I have often asked myself if and how it might be possible to sidestep the aesthetic impact of Sol LeWitt's works in order to take an 'unbiased' look at their Conceptual content. The early, predominantly modular, works seem to offer the best chance of this. Later things become more difficult - both in the wall drawings and in the three-dimensional objects. But perhaps the way I have framed the question is flawed: LeWitt defined conception in his Paragraphs on Conceptual Art (1969) as 'pre-fact' and perception as 'post-fact'. It's a chain of execution that may sound plausible, but for the viewer approaching the works it's more like a hermeneutic circle: via perception of the realized work one gains access to its conception. In this way the founding distinction between conception and perception is stirred up, with the seemingly paradoxical consequence that the aesthetic experience now appears as a 'pre-fact', preceding the original concept.

The extent to which this paradox must always be kept in mind was confirmed by LeWitt's latest work, conceived and realized for Space 01 at Kunsthaus Graz. More than 140 tons of breeze-blocks formed the simply titled Wall (2004), a piece that oscillated in convex and concave waves through the room. In the convex areas the vertical gaps between the rows of bricks opened up the nearly white concrete, lending the wall a lively surface. The use of artificial and natural light further modulated the three-dimensional object. While one could enter and circle LeWitt's four-metre high Wall at floor level, it shielded the room and enclosed it.

As a whole, the shape of the work was best viewed from the raised gallery. From here it was impossible to imagine the conception of Wall free of basic aesthetic premises. LeWitt conceived the piece for one of the most impressive but also one of the most difficult exhibition spaces one can imagine, a belated progeny of early Postmodernism: Space 01 - and LeWitt's Wall - are located directly beneath the curved roof of Kunsthaus Graz, designed by Peter Cook and Colin Fournier and opened last autumn. Seen from the outside, the building, lovingly referred to by the locals as the 'friendly alien', stands out confidently from the picture-postcard cultural heritage of the historic city centre. As an exhibition space, it defies the ongoing domination of the white cube. The shimmering blue outer skin of this truly organic architecture is contrasted in the interior by anthracite screens. The room feels dark; sparse daylight falls through funnel-shaped openings and is supplemented by neon spirals.

In Space 01 one really does feel as if one is inside some huge bodily organ. From the moment of conception LeWitt had to assert himself to prevent the space from swallowing his work. His best chance of competing with it successfully was by working with it, resulting in the obvious site-specificity of Wall. Using the industrially manufactured material of the breeze-blocks, Le Witt developed a delicate form that addressed the striking architecture of the room, but without imitation: seeking to approach it, pushing away from it, accessing its negative and positive spaces at the same time. This makes the piece a great success in two respects: LeWitt sounded out not only the potential of this difficult space for any artist but also the limits of his own approach to three-dimensional objects. Even if one is able to trace Wall back to the smallest components of its design in Conceptual, structural or axiomatic terms, in this location, at least, it could not be reduced to a purely intelligible order. And in any case, to escape its aesthetic charms would be a crying shame.

Translated by Nicholas Grindell