Art in Art: Breaking Open Form with Sol LeWitt and Banks Violette

The Conceptual artist and begrudging father of Minimalism, Sol LeWitt, reduced art to the basic elements of color, shape, and line in order to realize the flat, hard-edged structures and drawings he is known for. His creative formula was simple: Take a form and watch how it can be changed, reduced, broken or opened. LeWitt worked by rules and by instruction; to create his sculptural works he often supplied step-by-step directions for their construction, which were then followed and implemented by his studio assistants. In 1973, LeWitt took it upon himself to figure out exactly how many variations on the six-edged cube he could make by sequentially subtracting parts from it. The answer came in 122 different versions of the “Incomplete Open Cube” structures that LeWitt made over the span of 20 years.  

Fed by an interest in social margins and social breakdown, contemporary artist Banks Violette often draws on the visual culture of heavy metal in his work, creating installations that include dismembered sound equipment, salt- and resin-covered church frames, and tanks of nitrogen. Violette describes these images as zombies, “stripped of vitality, yet sometimes they get life back in them … and like zombies, usually something goes wrong when they wake up again.” Given Violette’s affinity for the dark and the extreme, drawing a connection between Violette’s wrought bronze bench (Not yet Titled (Bench), 2006) and Sol LeWitt’s clean cubic structures is an unusual comparison.

While LeWitt considered order his main creative strategy, favoring repetition and sequence, there is a destructive impulse behind his Open Cube structures, one that is evident in Violette’s black skeletal abstraction of a bench. Violette’s sculpture attacks form and pulls it apart. He collapses one side of the structure and removes another edge entirely, leaving the outline of a bench that looks both open and amputated. He pushes the boundaries of a conventional bench’s form to the point where he destroys its function—it is a bench you can’t sit on. LeWitt’s artistic obsession with the cube became a sequential exhaustion of its form, making Violette’s bench form just as parasitic to LeWitt’s project as it is a type of resurrection of it. Looking at both LeWitt’s and Violette’s sculptures together, Violette’s Not yet Titled (Bench) appears like a final mutated variation in LeWitt’s “Incomplete Open Cube” series, a contemporary reanimation of the Conceptual master’s original artwork.