In 1979, the neighborhood around Sol LeWitt's live/work loft at 117 Hester Street in New York was desolate and downtrodden. Dominating the landscape were political posters, tagged storefront gates, graffiti and other signage, which signified a melting pot demographic of a Puerto Rican, Chinese, and Jewish community. In a departure from the conceptual grid sculptures, drawings and paintings that he was making at the same time, LeWitt began photographing this urban sprawl. Eventually he amassed 666 images, mostly void of figures, that make up the little-seen series On the Walls of the Lower East Side.
Tomorrow night, the Mondrian SoHo—just a few blocks west of LeWitt's former residence—presents a selection of 120 of these snapshots grouped in nonhierarchical constellations of nine related compositions—just as LeWitt had originally intended. Printed on 40 pieces of weatherproof vinyl, the images will then be affixed to the hotel's slick façade—which is already divided into a network of rectangles—honoring the artist's allegiance to the grid. The ambitious outdoor installation, curated by Adam Shopkorn, will mark the first time this work will be exhibited in New York.
"Everyone knows the back of the Mondrian—this white, rectangular, gridded wall, that's a little strange, and it just sort of floats in space," Shopkorn sayss. This site-specific piece—which will last as long as the elements allow—will pay homage to one of the neighborhood's most famous residents, and remember a seminal era of artistic and geographical evolution. "Hip-hop in 1979 was bad, because they didn't have that much to base it on, just like the graffiti back then was kind of bad, but it was passionate," he says. "It was like a way to get the word out on how you felt in your neighborhood and your community. [Lewitt captured] street art before it was street art. No one called it 'street art,' it just was what it was."
"SOL LEWITT: On the Walls of the Lower East Side" opens Nov. 16 at Mondrian SoHo 150 Lafayette Street. A Morgans Hotel Group project organized in collaboration with independent curator Adam Shopkorn, the LeWitt Foundation and Paula Cooper Gallery.