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Pace Galleries

Scribbling with an artistic purpose at Albright-Knox

Standing, sitting and kneeling on three levels of scaffolding, more than a dozen artists drew scribble marks Monday on the walls surrounding the stairwell at Albright-Knox Art Gallery. When the 2,200-square-foot graphite wall installation designed by Sol LeWitt is completed in October, it will contain millions of random, yet deliberate, mechanical pencil strokes. The layered marks, in vertical or horizontal directions, will create tubular shapes made from six gradations of light and darkness. "When you look up close they are scribble strokes, but when you step back they're going to look like big modernist, industrial tubes," said Ilana Chlebowski, the curatorial assistant coordinating the labor-intensive installation. "Someone was joking that we could do this with a can of spray paint in a day or two, but that's not the idea. The idea is to use very traditional materials in a very open but specific way." The installation is to be the largest scribble drawing by LeWitt, the prolific Conceptual art pioneer, also linked to Minimalism, who rose to fame in the late-1960s. The work was commissioned by Albright-Knox Director Louis Grachos, after discussions with LeWitt and his gallery PaceWildensteincq began in 2005, two years prior to LeWitt's death. A crew of 16 artists -- 11 from Buffalo and five from the Sol LeWitt Studio who are leading the project -- are expected to log more than 5,000 hours to complete the work across the three adjoining walls that encircle the stairwell and connect the white marbled, patinated 1905 landmark with Gordon Bunshaft's Modernist addition in 1962. Among the artists are Ani Hoover, who has work in Albright-Knox's collection, and Kyle Butler, an artist in the upcoming show, "Beyond/In Western New York 2010: Alternating Currents." "I think we were all terrified when we first started, like, 'Oh my God, this is Sol LeWitt, we don't want to mess it up,'" said Alyssa Morasco, an art handler at Albright-Knox. She praised the work environment. "We have our own little family going. We're all in it together, and it keeps things fun and light," she said. Aviva Grossman, an artist and recent Brown University graduate staying with a relative in Amherst, said working on the installation has been a "great" experience. "I feel like it's bringing out something in my personality. It's making me a little crazy, but I think in a good way. It's a little bit meditative and masochistic," said Grossman. To prepare for the project, the walls were skimcoated in June, followed by two layers of oil-based paint and then five layers of latex paint. The result made the wall feel like the artists were drawing on paper. Grids were outlined starting Aug. 9, with the army of scribblers beginning two days later. But before they could start, the scaffolding had to be set up, and the work area needed to be encased in plastic to keep graphite dust from getting into the rest of the museum. In addition, tubes were connected to an air filtration system to remove the dirty air and protect the artists from breathing graphite. Gabriel Hurier, a draftsman with Sol LeWitt Studio, said this was the most complex, as well as the largest, scribble drawing LeWitt did. "It's really nice to do [this project] because I know these are some of the last ideas that he put down on paper," Hurier said. He said the effect, when finished, "should be overwhelming." A complementary exhibition, "Remix: LeWitt," through Feb. 27 in Clifton Hall, provides additional context.
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