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Massive Sol LeWitt Mural to Light Up JCC in Manhattan

By Emily Frost | July 25, 2013 8:29am
 The Center is hosting the piece for the forseeable future and putting on a retrospective exhibit. 
Massive Sol LeWitt Piece Debuts at the JCC
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UPPER WEST SIDE — A 36-foot-tall artwork by the iconic modern artist Sol LeWitt will debut Friday at The JCC in Manhattan in a "dream come true" for the community center, officials said.

On long-term loan from the LeWitt estate, the piece, created in 1989, is commonly referred to as "Wall Drawing #599" or just "#599." Its full name offers a better sense of what it looks like: "Wall Drawing #599: Circles 18" (45 cm) wide, from the center of the wall, with alternating white, yellow; white, red; and white, blue bands." 

While the Center showcases plenty of artwork in the five to six annual exhibits it hosts at its Laurie M. Tisch Gallery, "you can never assume you'll have a LeWitt," said Megan Whitman, senior director of arts and ideas. 

"It's sort of a dream come true," she said. 

The piece helps further the gallery's reputation, said Erica Werber, senior director of institutional communications. 

"We're not a community center with some art on the walls — we're an established gallery," she said. 

Over 27 days, two assistants trained by the now-deceased artist installed the work, creating boldly colored bulls eye-like concentric circles with more than a half mile of tape, a gallon of paint and 397 linear feet of scaffolding, among other tools. 

Viewers may be unknowingly familiar with the work of LeWitt, who died in 2007. His pieces can be seen all over the city, in 20 different public locations, including the Columbus Circle subway station, Whitman noted.

One of the founders of conceptual art, LeWitt believed "the artwork is more important than the artist," she said, adding that LeWitt left extremely detailed instructions about how his hundreds of works could be reproduced in his absence.

The JCC installation of "#599" is "viewable from the street, which felt resonant with [LeWitt's] beliefs," Whitman explained.

The work also speaks to the JCC's values, she added.

"The colors give a sense of diversity," and, "the concept of the circle is important to Judaism — the circle of life, from birth to old age," Whitman explained. 

The philosophical side of Judaism began to interest LeWitt towards the end of his life, and although he's Jewish, "he's not [typically] described as a Jewish artist," she said.

Still, the gallery will showcase LeWitt's artistic explorations of Judaism, including designs for a synagogue he built in Connecticut, in the free exhibit "Sol LeWitt: Shaping Ideas," which will accompany the installation and feature 25 or so smaller works beginning Aug. 15. 

As part of the exhibit, which runs through Nov. 12 and is open every day from 9 a.m. to 6 p.m., visitors can look at a map of LeWitt's New York City-based public art pieces and watch a time-lapse video of the installation.

Though scaffolding still surrounds the piece, members and visitors are excited about the splashes of color brightening up the otherwise stark, modern building, Whitman said.

"There's a lot of energy in the building around it," she said.