The Modern Art of Fashion

Dean Kaufmann

In the far northwestern corner of Massachusetts, the work of Sol Lewitt, on three floors at Mass MoCA, is the backdrop for, literally, much local color.

Sometimes it does take a village to make great art—and a departures fashion shoot—come to life. In this case, a former mill town called North Adams, Massachusetts, the unlikely home of the country’s largest museum of contemporary art, Mass MoCA.

Set on a 13-acre campus of 19th-century brick factory buildings, Mass MoCA has been, since opening in 1999, a unique playground for artists with very big ideas. And just in time for its tenth anniversary, the museum unveiled its biggest yet: a magisterial survey of Sol LeWitt’s signature Wall Drawings that occupies all three floors of the 27,000-square-foot Building 7.

Two dozen trained assistants, teamed with some 40 art students from local colleges and beyond, spent almost six months creating just over 100 of the Conceptual master’s works—from the austere line drawings of the sixties and seventies to the more lyrical bands of color and geometric forms of the eighties to the exuberant arcs and waves and blobs from his last decade, which look like coltish late-career exercises in pure pleasure.

LeWitt, who died in 2007, did not get to see the project through to completion, but his Wall Drawings—each of which began as a set of instructions or a diagram—were always intended to be executed by others. Intellectually rigorous yet accessible, this is art at its most collaborative, participatory, democratic. And it has never looked better than it does amid the partially sanded brick walls, exposed pipes, and ceiling beams of these industrial spaces.

Some have compared LeWitt’s Wall Drawings to music, with him as maestro and composer and his assistants the players. Featured on these pages are several of those who helped pull off this virtuoso performance as well as a few others who give this northern Berkshire community such great local color. They’re wearing classics, with some bold tones and a bit of pattern (how could we resist in this setting?). These are looks that will stand the test of time, certain to be just as stylish in a quarter-century, when LeWitt’s drawings are slated to come down. —Stephen Wallis

Mass MoCA is located at 87 Marshall Street in North Adams, Massachusetts. For more information on “Sol LeWitt: A Wall Drawing Retrospective,” including time-lapse videos of the works being created, visit massmoca.org or call 413-662-2111. The exhibition runs through 2033.