NEW LONDON — Artist Sol LeWitt had a habit of trading his work for pieces by other modern and contemporary artists who often became his collaborators and lifelong friends.
When he sold work through a gallery he would sometimes request the work of other artists who were represented by the same gallery as payment “to glean objects and stories rather than just money for that work,” said Tanya Pohrt, curator at the Lyman Allyn Museum, about “Sol LeWitt: Artist and Collector at Play,” on display until Oct. 16.
“These remarkable stories about artists, and exchanges and trades where artists who may have been young and up and coming would encounter Sol, and he would then offer to do an exchange — quite a bit of the works that seem to be represented in the collection came in that way,” she said at the opening.
The juxtapositions of works in the show reflect what might have been visual conversations between LeWitt (1928-2007), considered a key figure in conceptualism and minimalism, and a number of his contemporaries, including pieces by John Baldessari, Alighiero Boetti, Jenny Holtzer, Jean-Michel Basquiat, Mel Bochner, Robert Lazzarini, and On Kawara, among others.
In one gallery is the large-scale painting, “Untitled (Awelye) (awelye is women’s term for body painting),” by Gloria Petyarre, an Aboriginal Australian artist — the piece is one of 30 drawings and paintings in the LeWitt Collection by Aboriginal Australian artists. LeWitt, is described as finding a “great affinity” with the artists’ “dynamic patterns and their use of geometric and curvilinear forms.”
A number of pieces in the show are playful and evocative, like the large, neon pink sculpture, “Fludd” by Peter Soriano — a piece that LeWitt acquired through artist exchange — and “Love Me,” by Ree Morton, rendered in crayon and colored pencil on paper.
“A subset of the show is LeWitt’s sense of humor,” said Sam Quigley, director of the Lyman Allyn. “He loved the chance encounter when you put certain pieces next to each other. He hired artists to compose his wall drawings and structure so that collaboration, chance and interpretation would shape their outcome.”
LeWitt, who was born in Hartford, lived in New York City and moved to Chester, Conn., in the late 1980s, was “fascinated by concept of randomness and chance” as seen “Pocket Drawing” by William Anastasi, who created a series of “unsighted drawings” by holding a pencil against a folded piece of paper in his pocket while walking.
The show — which fills three small galleries with about 40 works — includes pieces from the LeWitt Collection and the Lyman Allyn.
Pohrt described the exhibition as eclectic rather than telling a firm narrative.
“It embraces those elements that are important to early conceptualist ideas — the sense of collaboration, of chance, of circumstance — coming into play and thinking about how pieces in our collection respond to or overlap with pieces in the LeWitt collection,” she said.
Janet Passehl, curator of the LeWitt collection, and Pohrt will give a gallery talk on September 21.