Experiencing the artist Eva LeWitt’s new installation is a bit like how one would imagine it might feel to walk into a color-field painting. Now on view at the Aldrich Museum in Ridgefield, Connecticut, the colorful, enveloping new work marks the artist’s first ever solo museum presentation.
As a child, Eva LeWitt spent a lot of time hanging around in her father’s studio—a formidable art education, considering she is the offspring of Conceptual pioneer Sol LeWitt. Though some have placed her work in the context of her his, with this show it’s easy to see how the younger LeWitt has carved out a space for herself and her own unique practice in the contemporary art world.
Rather than working with traditional sculptural materials, the artist opts for ones used in everyday objects: plastic, latex, rubber and polyurethane. Their malleable, lightweight qualities are easily-manipulated to fill the spaces in which she is intervening. Senior curator at the Aldrich, Amy Smith-Stewart was taken with LeWitt’s work for this reason, drawing a parallel with the work of Eva Hesse, as they both share a “kinship with minimalism” and something of a sensual quality.
Smith-Stewart says when she first came across LeWitt’s installation at Frieze in 2017 the term “eccentric abstraction” came to mind, a description first used by the art critic Lucy Lippard to describe the work of Eva Hesse. Both artists “inserted a softness that animated material in unexpected ways,” Smith-Stewart told Observer, “manipulating and transforming rigid and industrial properties to become more bodily and performative.”At the Aldrich, suspended drapes of colorful, layered mesh line the walls of the gallery harmoniously. Made primarily of mesh, the installation washes onlookers in vivid color, while the screen door-like cross-hatching of the material gives the room a light airiness. Here, LeWitt presents an experimentation with materials by coating it over vinyl and fiberglass. Appropriately, it is entitled Untitled (Mesh A–J), and it’s her largest site-specific installation to date.
Observer spoke to the artist about her process, influences and upbringing.
Tell me about creating this work for the Aldrich.
It’s pretty specific to the space. [The space] has a unique architectural feature they call it “the flying nun,” which is sort of a drop ceiling in the middle that basically leaves a four-foot border around the whole space, and I knew that I wanted to use it as a deep wall to put the work in. I used it as completely free space to make these kind of large scale—I’m thinking of them as drawings—individual sections that together made up a big whole but you could stand in front of one and it would be its own unique piece.
You used to work for Tara Donovan, how has that influenced your work?
She taught me to tackle space in a fearless way. We would show up, with just a small group of assistants, to a big empty room and leave having transformed the space. [Creating site-specific work] seemed less daunting after working for her.
How did you get the idea to use mesh?
I knew I wanted it to be transparent, translucent material, and this material came in a lot of colors. When put together, the [layers of mesh] have an energy, and that’s important to me. I want the work to be active even after I’ve left the space. I want it to have its own electricity.
Why are you drawn to these materials, opposed to traditional sculptural ones like wood and metal?
I generally like soft materials, I like to be able to handle the materials myself—that rules out a lot of metal, wood, and other materials that require a lot of technical expertise. You could be more creative with the way you put them together, develop your own ways of sculpting.
Your work is often been compared to Eva Hesse, has her worked influenced you directly?
Directly is a tricky word. It’s always been there in the back of my mind. Her broken down vulnerable minimalism is kind of, I feel like I relate to just her as a woman making art more than the work itself, though it ends up translating into the work in a very similar way
And she was one of your father’s contemporaries. Were you familiar with her work at an early age?
Yes, I was familiar with her as sort of a mythical figure. She died before I was born so she was always sort of looming large in history.
I read that you used to hang around and make art in your father’s studio as a child, what was this experience like?
He was very generous with his time. He’d always be happy to see me in his studio, now I think that was so nice of him, I must have been so annoying coming into his studio! If someone did that to me I’d be like “please go away” but he was really happy when I was there.
Did you have an awareness of how influential he was?
He was just working most of the time, he didn’t really like to go to his openings. He didn’t like a lot of attention. He just went to the studio every day and came home every night, it was sort of mundane.
What is your process like, is it more intuitive or methodically planned?
It’s a little bit a both I think the ideas come to me intuitively but there’s a lot of planning to translate them from my head to the space.
What sorts of things are inspiring you lately?
That’s a tough one. I keep my interests pretty separate. I like crime fiction. I don’t read art criticism or art theory. I like entertainment that has nothing to do with the art world.
Do you listen to anything while you working in your studio?
I like to listen to audiobooks. I listen to them all day long.
What are some recent ones you listened?
I just listened to Bury My Heart at Wounded Knee which was really sad and it took me a long time to get through because it was so devastating! I like fiction, ethics, history, biographies.