How’s this for a twisting story line? An architect commissions a famous artist to create a site-specific drawing in a house he has built for himself. The artist, who never touches his own works, creates exacting instructions that installation artists follow to create the 30-ft.-tall artwork in the living room of the home. The artist dies. A few years later, the architect dies, offering his home and the majority of his extensive art collection to a local but world-famous museum of which he was a trustee. The museum decides to sell the home and add much of the art to its collection, but there’s a problem with the wall drawing. It can’t be moved, and the museum is stymied by a restriction: It is not allowed to sell any artwork that has been bequeathed to it.
Here’s where the plot — and the drywall mud — thickens: the museum, unable to remove the artwork from the home without destroying it, comes up with an alternative plan. It will plaster over the drawing, rendering it unrecoverable.
Years later, the purchaser of the home is telling this story to a houseguest — who in a fit of curiosity grabs a dull knife and starts chipping away at the wall. The white coating flakes off. To his and his host’s surprise, a tableau of blue, red, and yellow appears: a fragment of the original drawing underneath.
What is this? The first 20 minutes of a new Wes Anderson movie, an episode of Columbo, or the setup for a Siri Hustvedt novel? No, its just the state of play at 1202 Milford St. in the Museum District. The artist is Sol LeWitt. The museum is the Menil Collection. The home is the former residence of Houston architect Bill Stern. And the plotline is still in progress:
The original work was created directly on the surface of the wall using multiple layers of ink applied with a cotton cloth. Although the Menil covered over the drawing, it did accept the instructions for how to make it into its collection.
Stern’s home is pictured below. As an architect, he also led the renovations of the Menils’ own River Oaks home, as well as that of the Contemporary Arts Museum.
Inside, the zombie LeWitt drawing is making its presence known along a jagged line cut into the wall. You can see it behind the piano and under the more recently hung artwork on the living room wall in this photo of the interior of the home, which now serves as the residence of a Houston dentist:
So what happens next, and how can we follow the continuing butter knife action? “This will be the story of Unerasing a Sol LeWitt,” reads a website set up to document the unauthorized exhumation of the work. It promises “More to come.” There are also Twitter and Instagram feeds for the project.
- Un-erasing Sol LeWitt
- Houston architect’s towering Sol LeWitt installation is a piece of American art history [CultureMap]
- Previously on Swamplot: Menil Collection Taking Bill Stern’s Art, but Trying To Sell His Museum District House for $1.475 Million; William F. Stern, 1947—2013