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FREE

FREE SOL LEWITT

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CONTENTS

Page 6 FOREWORD
Christiane Berndes

Page 10 SUPERFLEX/FREE SOL LEWITT

Page 36 FREE SOL LEWITT: SUPERFLEXS COPY MACHINE


Daniel McClean

Page 48 Discussion between Christiane Berndes,


Charles Esche, Daniel McClean AND SUPERFLEX

Page 68 IN-BETWEEN MINIMALISMS


Collection Vanabbemuseum

Page 102 SYSTEMS THINKING


Charles Esche

Page 108 IN-BETWEEN MINIMALISMS


List of works

Page 111 COLOPHONE

CONTENTS | 5
FOREWORD
Christiane Berndes

6 | FREE SOL LEWITT


The Van Abbemuseum invited the Danish artist collective SUPERFLEX to develop a project for
Play Van Abbe, an 18-month programme in four parts, consisting of exhibitions, projects, perfor-
mances, lectures and publications around the question of the function of the museum in the 21st
century. In Part 1: The Game and the Players the emphasis lay in the way directors, curators
and artists tell their story in a museum and thereby determine the rules of the game. Part 2: Time
Machines is the result of exploring several display models from the past and looking at their pos-
sible significance for the future. This has been the chapter that SUPERFLEX was invited to take
part in.

SUPERFLEX began researching the collection of the museum and was especially interested in
the Minimal and Conceptual art of the sixties and seventies. Here, artists stressed the idea for a
work as being the 'engine' behind the creating of a product. In tandem with the way in which the
industrial commodification worked at that time, emerged the possible notion of executing an idea
by third parties. As proof of authenticity, the purchaser of such an artwork received a certificate,
sometimes with an accompanying diagram on how to execute the work.

For Play Van Abbe Part 2: Time Machines SUPERFLEX proposed to curate an exhibition with
specifically these art works from the collection that focus on seriality, repetition, recipes, instruc-
tions, production and action. This became the exhibition In-between Minimalisms. Minimal and
Conceptual art works by Donald Judd, Carl Andre, Dan Flavin, Ian Wilson, Robert Morris, Ulrich
Rckriem and Robert Ryman have been combined with actions on video by John Baldessari,
Martha Rosler and Bruce Nauman in order to emphasize the presence of the body action. In the
centre of this collection display, SUPERFLEX has created a metal workshop in order to repro-
duce a work from the museum collection on site, and suggested sharing the copies among the
general public for free. The choice fell on the work Untitled (Wall Structure) from 1972 by Ameri-
can artist Sol LeWitt. On four tables set up on a platform, a couple of welders work daily on
reproducing LeWitts Untitled (Wall Structure). They cut the aluminium, weld it into the correct
shape, sand the form and then paint it white. The already made copies lie stacked in a corner
waiting for their new destinations. Visitors can apply for a copy and pick up a FREE SOL LE-
WITT replica if selected by a random selection process. The counterpart to this metal workshop
is the Information Room, a space for the immaterial, for mental labour, where original certificates
and installation instructions are displayed, and where visitors can refer to leading publications on
Minimal and Conceptual art.

Asked for the reason behind their choice for Sol LeWitt, SUPERFLEX indicated as one of the
main reasons was the fact that LeWitt is regarded as the founding father of Conceptual art, an
art form, which considers the idea more important than the physical manifestation of an artwork
as object. FREE SOL LEWITT is a homage to Sol LeWitt and the concepts that form the core
of his work. Herewith SUPERFLEX moves our attention from the material object to production,
presentation and distribution of an artwork and describes LeWitts work as a series of instruc-
tions and resources with which the museum can replicate this specific work from its collection

CHRISTIANE BERNDES / FOREWORD | 7


and donate the replicas to its visitors. In this way SUPERFLEX shifts the emphasis from the art-
work as an object of investment to the artwork as the result of a process and the underlying idea
behind this.

But what does that mean for the value of the original artwork and its position in the museum col-
lection? The museum has the duty to collect and document cultural property, and to make this
accessible so that critical reflection is possible, fresh perspectives may be presented and new
developments in the cultural and social fields are made possible. The aim of the project FREE
SOL LEWITT is, in an aesthetic manner, to raise the issue of the functioning of a museum as
owner of a public collection in a modern democratic society.

What are the obstacles a museum encounters along the way? What are the tensions that arise
between an exponential increase in the free exchange of information (i.e. the Internet) on the one
hand and copyright, specifically for art works, which in fact restricts this exchange, on the other?
At the same time the FREE SOL LEWITT installation poses the question of what it means for a
museum to own an artwork. What value is attached to the status of a copy and the original?
What status does the object have as a material possession? What do you actually own if you
own the material object, but not the copyright? How can you as a museum give people access to
the artwork if you do not hold the copyright?

With FREE SOL LEWITT, SUPERFLEX is playfully asking the museum to set free Sol LeWitts
work and by so doing labels the museum as a prison in which the artwork is locked away like a
criminal. By taking the freedom to reproduce Sol LeWitts work, the artists raise questions about
authorship, copyright and ownership, as well as the rights and duties of the museum as owner of
the object and as a public institution. It examines the manner in which, and the degree to which,
the museum gives the public access to its collections, mediates knowledge about the artwork
and its reception.

FREE SOL LEWITT presents the museum as a place of production. Literally in the form of an
installation in which a work by Sol LeWitt is reproduced. Figuratively since this reproduction
may be seen as a reinterpretation of Sol Lewitts work something that one can debate always
occurs whenever an observer encounters an artwork. The museum is the quintessential place
where these encounters take place, where the artwork stimulates the visitors imagination and
prompts him or her to imagine the world differently. FREE SOL LEWITT can thus be seen as a
reflection on the current model of museums of contemporary art. In making the codes of conduct
evident and the acceptance as the norms, which are embedded in our legal system and which
restrict our freedom of action; the work wants to introduce the opportunity for change and inno-
vation. In this context FREE SOL LEWITT functions like a time machine, challenging us to pres-
ent our new uses and possibilities for the museum: a space for the production of new ideas and
of new representations for the future.

8 | FREE SOL LEWITT


On the other hand, SUPERFLEX also raises the issue of the aura of the artwork as a one-off
object found in a specific place. In his essay from 1936, 'The Work of Art in an Age of Mechani-
cal Reproduction', Walter Benjamin suggests that reproduction strikes at the core of an artwork.
With Sol LeWitt you can ask yourself whether that is the case, or whether the work is not more
about the idea, a concept, or an execution that can be repeated again and again. Thus, the
work refers to the inspired moment out of which it arose, and not necessarily to the production
time. This angle is reflected in the way the FREE SOL LEWITT installation is set up. Here, too,
the inspired moment lies with the idea rather than that it lies in its physical manifestation. Thus
SUPERFLEX's approach introduces the museum as a platform for the exchange of ideas, where
we can relate in an entirely different manner other than only looking. This is a challenging en-
gagement, which will create plenty of new possibilities for the future.

CHRISTIANE BERNDES / FOREWORD | 9


SUPER-
FLEX/
FREE
SOL
LEWITT

10 | FREE SOL LEWITT


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FREE SOL LEWITT is constructed from 18
pieces of aluminium profiles.

SUPERFLEX / FREE SOL LEWITT | 13


In the FREE SOL LEWITT workshop the
aluminium profiles are measured and cut
before welded together. A team of workmen
work daily in the exhibition space of the
museum making exact copies of Sol LeWitts
Untitled (Wall Structure), 1972.

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SUPERFLEX / FREE SOL LEWITT | 17
The aluminium pieces are tig welded into a
lattice structure.

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The edges are sanded down and polished to
a smooth surface.

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In its final stage of reproduction, each copy
is coated with 3 layers of white enamel.

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All stages of the production process take
place in a single gallery room in the Van
Abbemuseum. Four tables, machinery and
tools have been set-up in the workshop
space.

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Visitor to the museum fills out an application
form to collect a FREE SOL LEWITT copy.

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Multiple copies of FREE SOL LEWITT
stacked in the workshop space
awaiting their new destinations.

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SUPERFLEX / FREE SOL LEWITT | 31
Visitors to the Van Abbemuseum pick up the
first copy of FREE SOL LEWITT. The original
Sol LeWitt piece is displayed in the back-
ground in room A1-09.

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FREE SOL
LEWITT:
SUPERFLEXs
Copy Machine
Daniel McClean

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The idea becomes a machine that makes the art,
Sol LeWitt, 'Paragraphs on Conceptual Art,' 1967.1

SUPERFLEXs FREE SOL LEWITT is a machine for producing copies. The machine is activated
by the Van Abbemuseum. The machine is not a literal machine. Instead, it is a set of instructions
(like many Conceptual art works) through which the Van Abbemuseum is to produce exact repli-
cas of an artwork in its collection, Untitled (Wall Structure) from 1972 by Sol LeWitt, and distrib-
ute these copies free of charge to members of the public.

Sol LeWitts structure is an open lattice structure (measuring almost two metres high and three
and a half metres wide) consisting of interlocking squares, which is affixed to the wall. It is fab-
ricated out of welded aluminium and painted white. When installed, LeWitts structure zigzags
across the museums wall protruding into a shallow space. LeWitt preferred to use the term
structure to describe these works rather than sculpture or painting because he considered
these latter categories of artistic media to be obsolete when describing the primary, geometric
forms and permutations which were generated from his ideas like a machine.

With SUPERFLEXs machine, the process of replicating LeWitts structure is made visible and
audible inside the museum. On a raised workshop-platform across four tables, workers perform
the separate and noisy tasks of cutting sheets of metal, welding the resulting squares together to
form replica structures and painting them. Everyday during the exhibition, piles of copies of Le-
Witts structure accumulate on the museums floor, their number determined by the rhythm of the
workers production. These copies (which are not attributed to Sol LeWitt) are to be distributed
to members of the public randomly through a lottery system, which museum visitors can sign up
for. They are given to the public without any restrictions as to how they may be used. By simulta-
neously making visible the processes of artistic production, exhibition and distribution, SUPER-
FLEXs machine disrupts their conventional chronology by bringing these normally differentiated
moments together inside the museums walls.

As is reflected playfully in its title, SUPERFLEXs machine asks the Van Abbemuseum to free
Sol LeWitts structure. On the one hand, SUPERFLEXs challenge is to extend the distribution of
LeWitts artwork beyond the confines of the museum in which it is locked to allow the works
content to be shared by a wider public. Accordingly, the machine calls into question the mu-
seums relationship to the outside public sphere and demands the need for a wider engagement
by the museum with this sphere. On the other hand, SUPERFLEXs machine asks the museum
to free the content of LeWitts work by providing the public with replicas of LeWitts structure,
literally free of charge.

1 Sol LeWitt, Paragraphs on Conceptual Art, re-printed from Artforum, vol.5, no.10, New York, [June 1967], in
Sol LeWitt, 'Critical Texts', Zevi, Adachiara (ed.), I Libri di Aeluo: Rome, 1994, pp.78-82.

DANIEL MCCLEAN / FREE SOL LEWITT: SUPERFLEX'S COPY MACHINE | 37


Copying Sol LeWitt

SUPERFLEX is a collective of radical Danish artists. This artist collective is interested in how cul-
tural information (including art works) is created and valued. Its position and practice is inspired
by the free culture and free software movements which advocate copying as a residual elemental
process in the sharing and building of language and knowledge, and should not be constrained
by intellectual property laws, and, if so, only to a minimum degree. Referring to socially progres-
sive information models derived from the digital environment, in particular to open source soft-
ware, SUPERFLEXs aim in its practice is to create free and open social models or tools2 for the
creation and sharing of information. Participants in its projects are invited to use and adapt these
tools. Its projects have included the construction of tools for collectively producing and distrib-
uting biogas technology (SUPERGAS), internet television channels (SUPERCHANNEL), food
products (FREE BEER), and design objects (COPY LIGHT).

Why did SUPERFLEX choose to copy this particular artwork from the Van Abbemuseums col-
lection and to copy it in this way? Like other works of Minimalist and Conceptual art, LeWitts
structure is relatively easy to copy and implies the possibility of infinite repetition and reproduc-
tion. For SUPERFLEX, its machine is a homage to Sol LeWitts machine, yet it also questions its
status as an icon. It extends the possibilities inherent in LeWitts machine, whilst reflecting upon
the failure of such works (like those of other Minimalist and Conceptual artists) in their promise
to overcome the fetish of the original, auratic art object and connect the production of art to its
wider social distribution.

FREE SOL LEWITT was inspired by an invitation to SUPERFLEX from the Van Abbemuseum
to work with its collection leading to the exhibition In-between Minimalisms, within which FREE
SOL LEWITT is a core element or an interruption. SUPERFLEX was attracted to the Minimalists
and in this respect, to Sol LeWitt, because of their ideas about how art can be modelled after
mass industrial production. It also wanted to question the way in which Minimalist art works have
become transformed into precious icons. The Minimalists were the first artist generation to utilize
a language of prefabricated industrial forms and materials made by workers rather than by artists,
including Dan Flavins fluorescent light tubes and Donald Judds Plexiglas boxes, which were
distributed throughout the capitalist Western world in the 1950s and 1960s. They were also the
first generation of artists to structurally incorporate the logic of industrial production into the con-
struction of their works, as reflected in the serial repetitive use of identical materials and geomet-
ric elements and the reliance on industrial labour processes, such as Carl Andres rectangular
floor arrangements of concrete bricks or Donald Judds floor installations of wooden and metal
cubes. Like the works of many of the Minimalist artists in the Van Abbemuseums collection, a
factory fabricated LeWitts structure.

2 SUPERFLEX/TOOLS, Walter Knig, Cologne, 2003.

38 | FREE SOL LEWITT


As SUPERFLEX reminds us, Minimalist artworks are copy machines (like Pop art works in their
relation to photographic images), which implicitly pose the question of where reproduction might
begin and end, while challenging the economy of aesthetic originals. Almost from the very be-
ginning, Minimalism, Rosalind Krauss noted3,

located itself, as one of its radical acts, within the technology of industrial production. That ob-
jects were fabricated from plans meant that these plans came to have a conceptual status within
Minimalism, allowing for the possibility of replication of a given work that could cross the bound-
aries of what had always been considered the unreproducibility of the aesthetic original.

This quality of implied extension or infinite reproducibility, underscored by Minimalisms industrial


methods of fabrication and repetitive structures was praised by its artists, (Carl Andre famously
declared his ideal form of sculpture to be a road) but was decried by its critics. According to the
Modernist art critic, Michael Fried the Minimalist spectators awareness of the endlessness not
just of objecthood, but of time amounted to an aesthetic theatricality and a failure (in contrast to
Modernist artworks) to create an experience of the artwork which is located strictly within it 4.

SUPERFLEX was also drawn to LeWitts work because of his dematerialized notion of art, shared
with Conceptual artists, that ideas can be works of art in their own right, existing in priority over
and separation from the artworks physical form and material execution. In Paragraphs on Con-
ceptual Art published in 1967 and one of the first formulations of Conceptual art as an artistic
movement, LeWitt stated:

I will refer to the kind of art in which I am involved as conceptual art. In conceptual art the idea
or the concept is the most important aspect of the work. When an artist uses a conceptual form
of art, it means that all of the planning and decisions are made beforehand and the execution is a
perfunctory affair. The idea is a machine that makes the art.

Accordingly, for LeWitt, it is the idea that is of primary importance in art and like a machine, it
generates the results that follow. The idea need not be of great significance and the result can
be absurd or even irrational (Conceptual artists are mystics rather than rationalists. They leap
to conclusions that logic cannot reach, he stated in his 'Sentences on Conceptual Art', 1969).
However, the idea must be followed, akin to a clerk cataloguing, to its logical conclusion. Le-
Witts variations on incomplete open cubes and other geometrical structures are examples of
this.

As SUPERFLEXs project articulates, LeWitts work lies at a critical juncture between Minimal-

3 Rosalind Krauss, The Cultural Logic of the Late Capitalist Museum, 1990 reprinted in 'Minimalism', James
Meyer, (ed.), Phaidon, 2000, p.285.

4 Michael Fried, Art and Objecthood [1967] reprinted in ibid, p.235.

DANIEL MCCLEAN / FREE SOL LEWITT: SUPERFLEX'S COPY MACHINE | 39


ism and Conceptual art, between art as objecthood and art as idea. In one sense, it is tied to the
object, to the permutations of geometric structures and the serial repetition of primary forms in
contrast to the linguistic grammar of Conceptual art. In another sense, the object has become a
phantom (LeWitts structures are typically executed in white), its materiality and three-dimension-
ality all but drained, in its emphasis upon the underlying idea. Indeed, the logic of LeWitts prac-
tice would lead him to exploit the wall (a crucial site for Conceptual artists) in his wall drawings,
as a space where his ideas could be presented in a two-dimensional form devoid of illusionism.

Conceptual artworks whether defined as linguistic statements or instructions are also copy ma-
chines. Dispensing with the object, Conceptual artworks open up the utopian possibility that
the artwork as an idea can be communicated and distributed in the form of information to a
wide public who do not have to buy the work in order to share it (the idea is the artwork pri-
mary information) or who can partake in the artwork through its mass reproduction (as in printed
information secondary information). Conceptual art might finally dismantle the artwork as a
commodity fetish and overcome the separation between art and life that was advocated by many
of its leading exponents, including the New York based art critic, Lucy Lippard. It was Lippard
who established with Sol LeWitt in 1976 the publishing organ, Printed Matter, dedicated to the
publishing of artists books (regarded as artworks in themselves) at affordable prices. Alexander
Alberro5 reveals how this optimism was influenced by an idealized model of technology and infor-
mation (inspired by Marshall McLuhans new theories laid out in Understanding Media about the
information society) and that art, like information, could be communicated universally, instantane-
ously and globally.

It is no accident that just as the Minimalists aligned themselves with the industrial factory and its
methods of production, the Conceptual artists aligned themselves with the corporate office and
its tools of communication of the time: the typewriter, telephone and photocopier. The photocopi-
er was the copy machine par excellence of the Conceptual movement. This is exemplified in Seth
Siegelaubs 'The Xerox Book' project in 1968. Siegelaub was a pioneer of the early Conceptual
movement in New York in the 1960s, producing a series of groundbreaking exhibitions and pub-
lications. In 'The Xerox Book', Siegelaub proposed that the seven artists in his gallery (including
Sol LeWitt) create works to be exhibited in the form of a book that would be photocopied and
widely distributed, thereby collapsing for the first time, the site of the exhibition with the publica-
tion (in the end, Xerox refused to sponsor the exhibition). Directing that each artist must present
their work within an allotted twenty-five pages in the book, Siegelaub later said that 'The Xerox
Book' was an attempt to consciously standardize, in terms of an exhibition, book, or project, the
conditions of production underlying the exhibition process 6. In 1966, Mel Bochner had also
aligned the Conceptual artwork with its reproduction via the photocopier in his gallery exhibition,
Working Drawings and Other Visible Things On Paper Not Necessarily Meant To Be Viewed As

5 Alexander Alberro, Conceptual Art and The Politics of Publicity, MIT Press, 2003, esp. pp.133-135.

6 Seth Siegelaub and Hans Ulrich Obrist in conversation, published in 'TRANS #6', 1999, pp.51-63.

40 | FREE SOL LEWITT


Art. Here, he presented four identical ring binders of photocopied documents on four pedestals -
including a copy of a diagram that came with the Xerox copy machine on how to use it.

It is perhaps unsurprising, then, that LeWitts statements regarding his own use of other artists
works and the use made by other artists of his work, have strong affinities with this model of art
as information which can be collectively shared and built upon. Writing in Flash Art in 1973, in
response to the accusation that he had copied other artists (primarily, Jan Schoonhoven and
Francois Morellet), LeWitt iterates:

I believe that ideas, once expressed, become the common property of all. They are invalid if not
used, they can only be given away and cannot be stolen. My art is not of formal inventions; the
forms I use are only the carrier of the content. I am influenced by all art that I admire (and even art
I dont admire) 7.

In regards to how his own work could be used by others, LeWitt continues and states:

[M]y own work of the past ten years is about only one thing: logical statements must be made
using formal elements as grammar. I am neither the first artist nor the last to be involved with
this idea. If there are ideas in my work that interest other artists, I hope they make use of them.
If someone borrows from me, it makes me richer, not poorer. We artists, I believe, are part of a
single community sharing the same language.

SUPERFLEXs copy machine allows us to return to the radical potential of LeWitts artistic lan-
guage, a language that other artists with and without LeWitts knowledge have built upon. These
artists include Jonathan Monk who has made numerous artworks in homage to LeWitt, reusing
LeWitts work and most famously, John Baldessaris parodic singing of LeWitts Sentences on
Conceptual Art in 1972 (although LeWitt emphasized in these sentences that these statements
did not constitute an artwork itself). In his private life, LeWitt was equally renowned for being
generous with his work - my own recollection as a young curator was watching LeWitt cut a
work on paper of painted, coloured stripes into parts and give these signed parts to the workers
who had assisted him in his exhibition at the Henry Moore Institute in Leeds in appreciation of
their work.

At the same time, however, SUPERFLEXs machine reminds us of the shortcomings of both artis-
tic movements in truly democraticizing the artwork. Despite their radical potential, neither move-
ment led to a break with the aesthetic of the original or to the artworks wider social distribution.
Just as Minimalist artworks were defined by their plans and drawings and Conceptual artworks
by their statements and instructions (both of which imply mass reproducibility), their construction

7 Sol LeWitt, Comments on an Advertisement Published in Flash Art, April 1973, re-printed from Flash Art,
no.41, Milan, [June, 1973], in ibid, pp.97-99.

DANIEL MCCLEAN / FREE SOL LEWITT: SUPERFLEX'S COPY MACHINE | 41


and ownership as rare aesthetic originals would be made through the artists certification. Cer-
tificates of authenticity authorize which artworks can be sanctioned as originals and importantly,
which reproductions cannot. They, therefore, along with the artworks provenance, structure a
regime of authorial originality in art which has parallels with how copyright law restricts acts of
copying and distribution within culture (including art) generally.

The Minimalists were far from resistant in limiting the number of artworks produced and sold as
unique, original artefacts and were assisted by the use of artists certificates, which became of
vital significance in the sale and distribution of art. In some cases, they even sold their works in
the form of plans and certificates to collectors (for example, to the important European collec-
tor, Count Panza di Biumo) and allowing the collector to fabricate the work from the plan8. As
Alberro9 reveals, Conceptual artists continued this trajectory. As the artwork became increas-
ingly dematerialized (and reproducible), often executed as a text or a drawing directly onto the
wall, the works certificate became the prime site for reconstructing the artworks materiality and
uniqueness as a luxury commodity. By the end of 1972, Lucy Lippard had noted with despair
how Conceptual art had become integrated into the capitalist commodity system and how these
artworks were now bought and sold and speculated on by collectors in the same way as other
artworks:

It seemed in 1969 that no one, not even a public greedy for novelty, would actually pay money
or much of it for a Xerox sheet referring to an event it seemed that these artists would there-
fore be forcibly freed from the tyranny of a commodity status and market orientation. Clearly
whatever minor revolutions in communication have been achieved by the process of de-material-
izing the object art and artist in a capitalist society remain luxuries 10.

In contrast to these earlier movements, SUPERFLEX has created a machine, which invokes the
potential of the Minimalist and Conceptual art machines to produce multiple copies for distribu-
tion, breaking the hallowed silence normally surrounding the Minimalist art object inside the mu-
seum. Many of these copies will find their way into the homes of the local people of Eindhoven,
extending the Van Abbemuseum into the community, while others will circulate across the world.
The only limit to the number of copies made derives from the museums decision as to when to
switch the machine on or off and the finite number of copies produced each day by its opera-
tors.

Yet SUPERFLEX does not intend to provide a machine, which extends the artistic original, or to

8 Martha Buskirk, The Contingent Object of Contemporary Art, MIT Press, 2003, pp.34-48.

9 Alexander Alberro, ibid, pp.150-151.

10 Lucy Lippard, Six Years: The Dematerialization of the Art Object (New York: Praeger, 1973) re-printed in Art
in Theory, Harrison, Charles & Wood, Paul (ed.), London, Blackwell, 1993, p.895.

42 | FREE SOL LEWITT


produce an unlimited edition of an artwork (although it does not rule out the possibility that the
copies produced by its machine may be one day recouped and valued as artworks). Nor does it
intend to disperse fragments of Sol LeWitts work; in this respect their strategy (though there are
parallels) differs from that of Felix Gonzalez-Torres who transformed Minimalistic forms into cycli-
cally replenished stacks of paper sheets and corner piles of candy to be taken by gallery visitors.
Instead, despite its analogue form, SUPERFLEX proposes that Sol LeWitts structure is distrib-
uted as information: information which can be used and adapted by the public.

For SUPERFLEX, the model of information embodied in its FREE SOL LEWITT machine can be
compared to source code found in computer software. Source code is a collection of statements
or declarations written in human readable computer programming language and stored in com-
puter files. It is also the mechanism used by programmers to specify the actions to be performed
by computers. By drawing this analogy between source code and Conceptual arts formulas of
instructions (LeWitts own unfolding geometric permutations seem strangely prophetic of the vir-
tual forms generated by computer programs), SUPERFLEX updates the fundamental notions of
Conceptual art and links the movement to a contemporary copy machine: the computer.Having
drawn the link with source code, the question for SUPERFLEX becomes: how can this form of
information be shared and valued in a wider network socially?

The Copy Machine and the Public Domain

Brian Holmes writes:

[T]he backdrop against which art now stands out is a particular state of society. What an instal-
lation, a performance, a concept or a mediated image can do is to mark out a possible or real
shift with respect to the laws, the models, the customs, the measures, the mores, the technical
and organizational devices that define how we must behave and how we may relate to each
other at a given time or place"11.

Holmes is identifying a type of art that can be described as having a propositional social value
in that it proposes new models of social and cultural (rather than a primarily aesthetic) engage-
ment.

In presenting a different model for distributing cultural content (in this instance, original artworks
owned by the museum but whose copyright is often controlled by artists estates), FREE SOL
LEWITT has a propositional social value which fits within this shift that Holmes describes. Yet

11 Brian Holmes, Escape the Overcode: Activist Art in the Control Society, Van Abbemuseum Public Research
#02, 2009, pp.13-14.

DANIEL MCCLEAN / FREE SOL LEWITT: SUPERFLEX'S COPY MACHINE | 43


in doing so, it differs from earlier models of social engagement and participatory aesthetics, in
particular from the model of relational aesthetics theorized by Nicolas Bourriaud12. If relational
aesthetics posits an idealized, micro-community of audience interactions characterized by con-
viviality produced through the relational art installation, SUPERFLEXs project reminds us that
a domain of audience interaction around the artwork cannot be simply and neutrally taken for
granted but must be produced and fought for. Above all, it reminds us that any domain (including
within the museum) is defined by rules and constraints, in this instance, by the rules and con-
straints of the art system (as embodied in the museum) and by legal rules and constraints that
can limit communication and must be challenged if the public domain is to remain free.

The legal constraint identified in SUPERFLEXs project lies in its potential breach of copyright
law. Copyright regulates the reproduction, distribution and public performance of cultural media
including artworks, texts, music and images in both analogue and digital form. It does this by
granting monopoly style property rights to copyright owners (in most instances, the authors of
works) who are entitled to authorize and restrict the acts referred to above in relation to cultural
works. This constraint is at issue here because ownership of copyright in artworks, as in other
cultural works, is passed by law to the authors estate after the authors death (copyright gener-
ally lasts for the lifetime of the author plus seventy years). The copyright of Sol LeWitts artworks
is accordingly owned and controlled by the artists estate even though it belongs to the Van
Abbemuseums collection.

It is not the purpose of SUPERFLEXs project to challenge the specific authority of the Sol Le-
Witt Estate or to suggest that this estate would not be in favour (as Sol LeWitt almost certainly
would have been) of the machine, as FREE SOL LEWITT is an act of homage. Rather, the point
is to challenge the generic authority (which unfortunately, too often can become real) of any art-
ists estate or any other copyright owner to veto such uses of an artists work. SUPERFLEXs
machine functions as a constructive process of inquiry, which implicates the Van Abbemuseum,
and the recipients of the machines copies in questioning the constraints imposed upon cultural
communication and the public domain by copyright law. The Van Abbemuseum acquires for its
collection not just an artwork but also a set of relations: a set of relations that asks how artworks
and the copyright linked to them might be used by the museum in the future. The beauty of
SUPERFLEXs machine is that by entering the Van Abbemuseums collection, it will function as a
tool for the museum to use, posing questions each time the museum wishes to reactivate it.

It is worth considering for a moment the different manifestations of the public domain that are at
stake here. In one sense, the public domain is the social realm outside of the museum, many of
whose inhabitants are often indifferent to the museums activities. By distributing free copies of
LeWitts structure outside the Van Abbemuseum, including to local people, SUPERFLEX seeks
to connect the museum with this sphere thereby dissolving, so to speak, its walls. While seeking

12 Nicolas Bourriad, Relational Aesthetics, Le Presse Du Reel, France , 1998.

44 | FREE SOL LEWITT


to enfranchise members of the public such as members of the local community, by giving them
free copies of Sol LeWitt to place in their private homes, SUPERFLEX deploys a random lottery
system when distributing these copies. The lottery system utilised by SUPERFLEX removes the
social hierarchies that often accompany the distribution of art (the art world versus the pub-
lic) ensuring that a wide range of visitors to the museum will receive copies. SUPERFLEXs
machine refers back to earlier idealistic models of the museum, including the model proposed
by the visionary museum director and founder of the Newark Museum in the early 20th century,
John Cotton Dana13 that originals and copies of artworks from the museum could be loaned like
books from a library to members of the public in order to broaden the museums connection with
the community. SUPERFLEX extends this model through its machine, distributing replicas to the
public, not merely lending them out.

In another sense, the public domain is the artistic community represented, however problemati-
cally, by the museum. SUPERFLEX asks the Van Abbemuseum to intervene on its behalf as an
artist collective and on behalf of an artistic community whose images, forms and ideas are col-
lectively copied, shared and built upon by other artists in what might be termed an artistic com-
monwealth. The artistic commonwealth has, historically, supported a myriad of artistic practices
predicated upon copying, including acts of homage, parody and critique (as reflected most re-
cently in Appropriation art). These ideas are encapsulated in Sol LeWitts statements referred to
that ideas once expressed become the common property of all and that [w]e artists, I believe,
are part of a single community sharing the same language14. It is, furthermore, a shared norm of
the artistic commonwealth that artists do not exercise their copyright in relation to acts of copy-
ing by one another, although this position changes when the commercial exploitation exists out-
side of the boundaries of the artistic commonwealth, thus putting it at stake.

Finally, SUPERFLEX posits another public domain that is unencumbered by intellectual property
laws. In 'Free Culture' (2003) Lawrence Lessig15 illustrates how global copyright laws in their
21st century incarnation lock down cultural content to limit free expression, cultural creativity and
free markets and to thereby limit the scope of the public domain. Lessig locates the exponential
expansion of copyright law in the last decade and the lock down of content in the threat caused
to corporate capitalist media interests by the Internet, the ultimate copy machine. The Internet
allows for the unprecedented communication and sharing of information and content as a result
of copyrights expansion; as Lessig argues, the rough divide between the free and the control-
led has now been erased. The Internet has set the stage for this erasure and controlled by big

13 The New Museum, Selected Writings by John Cotton Dana, Penniston, William A. (ed.) American Associa-
tions of Museums, 1999, pp.41-52.

14 Sol LeWitt, ibid, pp.97-99.

15 Lawrence Lessig, Free Culture: How Big Media Uses the Law to Lock Down Culture and Control Creativ-
ity, The Penguin Press, 2004 also published on the Internet under a Creative Commons License www.free-
culture.cc/freeculture.pdf, p.8.

DANIEL MCCLEAN / FREE SOL LEWITT: SUPERFLEX'S COPY MACHINE | 45


media, the law has now affected it. The consequence is, he writes, that we are less and less a
free culture, more and more a permission culture.

For Lessig, the over expansion of copyright law is reflected in multiple forms, including in its
scope (copying is now directly applied to control technology which facilitates copying, for exam-
ple, peer to peer file sharing), its extended duration (a copyright term had the duration of fifteen
years in the 18th century) and the limited nature of its defences (copyright fails to accommodate
shared cultural practices of sampling and mixing). Whilst a minimal level of copyright protection
may be justified (as Lessig acknowledges) in order to act as an incentive in the creation of cultur-
al works, copyright in its current manifestation needs to be radically reduced and is inconsistent
with the digital environment of mass copying and sharing of information.

Conclusion

SUPERFLEXs machine provides a platform for preserving a public domain in both analogue and
digital environments through shared social practices of copying that is resistant to the encroach-
ment of intellectual property laws. However, for SUPERFLEX, the interest in constructing its ma-
chine is not only to question the way in which cultural information is distributed and shared, but
to also look at how value is generated through acts of copying. This is because contrary to the
assumptions of intellectual property laws, copying can and does create greater economic and
cultural value for the original images, signs, products and ideas that are copied. Thus, rather than
being undermined by SUPERFLEXs copy machine, the value of LeWitts structure and his work
generally benefit from reproduction thereby accruing greater economic and cultural value in the
process.

In returning to the radical potential of the copy machines of Minimalist and Conceptual art,
SUPERFLEXs machine bypasses the legacy and limits of 1980s Appropriation art and its much-
vaunted critique of authorship. Appropriation art failed to challenge the economy of the art object,
participating, just as it produced copies of originals, in the same traditional and closed structures
of artistic production and distribution, which it allegedly critiqued.

Where does SUPERFLEXs copy machine go from here? One can imagine further encounters
this machine might have with other artworks and perhaps with entire collections of museums.
The copy machine has only just been activated.

46 | FREE SOL LEWITT


| 47
Discussion
between
Christiane
Berndes,
Charles
Esche,
Daniel
McClean
AND
SUPERFLEX

48 | FREE SOL LEWITT


INTERVIEW
This discussion took place at the Van Abbemuseum on the 2nd of April 2010 between:

Christiane Berndes (CB)


Curator and head of collections Van Abbemuseum, co-curator In-between Minimalisms

Superflex,
Charles Esche (CE)
Director Van Abbemuseum
Charles Esche,
Christiane
Daniel McClean (DM)
Berndes and
Daniel McClean
Art lawyer and co-curator In-between Minimalisms

SUPERFLEX/Bjrnstjerne Christiansen (BC)


Co-curator In-between Minimalisms

DM:
Shall we begin by discussing the FREE SOL LEWITT project and its relationship to the exhibi-
tion, In-between Minimalisms?

BC:
FREE SOL LEWITT started some years ago out of a discussion between SUPERFLEX and
Charles Esche on how to challenge the way art is made accessible to the public and how to
question the position of the museum today. If the museums role is to collect and preserve art-
works then maybe the next step is for it to distribute artworks, to open up new levels of use,
access and ownership. So it began with a discussion, to see if one could look at models found
elsewhere in society about cultural production and the value system created around this produc-
tion.

Then as part of the exhibition series Play Van Abbe, Part 2: Time Machines, SUPERFLEX was
invited to work with the Van Abbes collection. We decided to make a model, using a specific
work from the collection; this model could work as a tool for the public to discuss and use. This
approach became the basis for researching the Van Abbes collection and we chose Sol Le-
Witts work, Untitled (Wall Structure) (1972), which is a large zigzagging, lattice metal structure
painted white.

DM:
Can you describe briefly how FREE SOL LEWITT works?

BC:
We have created a kind of machine, a metal workshop inside the museum, where copies of Sol
LeWitts wall structure are made and distributed to the public. This machine shows step by step

DISCUSSION BETWEEN... | 49
the different stages of an artwork starting from the idea to its production, display and distribution.

DM:
The metal workshop fabricates exact copies or replicas of this specific Sol LeWitt work?

BC:
Yes. The welders work during the exhibition for four hours each day and produce exact copies.
These copies are made available to the public. During the exhibition, members of the audience
can submit an application form to receive a FREE SOL LEWITT. The form describes the project
and the conditions for receiving a copy. They have to fill in their name, contact details, signature,
and then they place it in a box. Via a random lottery system one name is drawn and the museum
calls that person. This lucky person comes to the museum and picks up the work, takes it home,
into another context. In our understanding, the value system is hereby challenged and value is
added to the work, to the artists and our cultural heritage.

DM:
Why are you interested in this particular Sol LeWitt work? What happens to it in this new con-
text?

BC:
We used this Sol LeWitt work for various reasons. First, because its an artwork that is formu-
lated as a concept, an idea and an instruction, yet would have a physical representation in the
collection - in the form of an object. Second, because it is relatively easy to copy and reproduce,
so that we could use that object and its related information in a production setting. Third, be-
cause the work was not executed by the artist. We liked the work and could easily imagine that
the production machine of this specific work would work well for the discourse we are interested
in. Sol LeWitts conceptual thinking and approach is inspiring, his iconic status and value today
was also important for us. In a new context anything can happen, the information or the work can
be used in new ways that we do not want to determine or formulate. It is up to the new user.

DM:
Your project is a kind of photocopier then, a type of production machine for Sol LeWitts work?

BC:
Yes, it is a photocopier. The work is easily reproducible; it uses mass produced or easily acces-
sible raw materials, i.e. aluminium, with a certain diameter and painted white. It follows a standard
process for making this kind of object or product.

CE:
Can you explain a bit about the relationship between FREE SOL LEWITT and the In-Between
Minimalisms exhibition?

50 | FREE SOL LEWITT


BC:
The raw material for our project is actually the whole exhibition, In-between Minimalisms. By
looking into the collection of the Van Abbemuseum and its archive, we focused on the period
of the 1960s and 1970s and in particular Minimalism and Conceptual art. First of all, we looked
into the idea and concept behind the artworks at that time. I think most of the artists from that
period talk of the idea as the key action. The way the idea is executed is another issue, maybe
less important, but in the end it is the object that is there and valued, more than the idea and
concept that is almost forgotten. This is, of course, one aspect to discuss. The iconic valuation or
the sensation of this object as well as the construction and the whole system around this object
becomes more and more important.

CB:
Maybe we should talk a little bit about the rooms in the exhibition?

BC:
In the first room we tried to give a direction as to how we want to use the materials in the exhibi-
tion and how we can guide the visitor in that direction. One example is the use of Sol LeWitts
instructions and certificate for a wall drawing which we presented on the wall in place of the exe-
cuted drawing; you can imagine this work unfolding as if you took part in the action. And there is
an Yves Klein IKB (International Klein Blue) monochrome1, which is perhaps quite a strange step
to add to a Minimalist and Conceptual art exhibition, even though he is one of the really dedi-
cated conceptual artists. Klein is very important for us; he wouldnt usually be in a show like this.
Placing Klein up there high on a wall and also without a filter - we removed the acrylic sheet
that is normally placed in front of the work to prevent visitors from damaging the work - to show
just the pure raw material of his work which I think is quite important. And then there are the two
big guys, the two Minimalist icons, Judd and Flavin who also give the exhibition a good balance
and introduction. Both of them use very simple mass produced materials, like Flavins fluorescent
light tubes2, in almost each household anyone can achieve or has the skills for making and hang-
ing it. It looks quite beautiful and it gives an impression of space and illusion. And you have the
long Judd metal progression piece3, which is a little more complicated. It uses repetition, which
is one of our key selection critera as it deals with space and its relation to architecture.

Then you enter the next room; here Martha Rosler4 is speaking to the grey man (Alan Charltons
monochrome Untitled (1979)) through the wooden blocks Palisade (1976) of Carl Andre. Right
after that we have added the Andy Warhols print Campbells Soup (1968) as a playful element.
We call this room the Kitchen. Warhol is also not usually considered in the canon of Minimal

1 Yves Klein, Monochrome bleu, sans titre (IKB 63) (1959)

2 Dan Flavin, Monument on Mrs. Reppins survival (1968)

3 Donald Judd, Untitled (Progression) (1969)

4 Martha Rosler, Semiotics of the Kitchen (1975)

DISCUSSION BETWEEN... | 51
art, he is more marked as a Pop artist, but I think he is also hardcore conceptual. And now he is
more of an icon and a monument and we all know his images and so on, but repetition, seriality,
replication, reuse, and sampling was a huge part of his practice. Warhol was asking how do you
create culture by reproducing an image and taking it out of its context and reproducing it again
and again and again, like the Campbells soup can. That created a new value.

The exhibition is organised so that you go through different steps and combinations of artist
interruptions, which challenge the classical understanding of Minimal and Conceptual art. For
example, we have included Ian Wilsons Circle on the floor (1968); Wilson would normally not
be included in this context either, but he is an important Conceptual artist. Wilsons circle is in
the same room as an iconic floor piece by Carl Andre, Twenty-fifth steel Cardinal (1974), being
linked with a very funny video by John Baldessari5 singing Sol LeWitts Sentences on Concep-
tual Art. Baldessari almost makes it into a karaoke version - something we have tried to highlight
in the installation. In another room there is an iconic plywood box by Donald Judd6 and next to
this there are sixteen performance videos by Bruce Nauman where he makes repeated actions,
he interacts with a square, etc. It is about time; it is about how many repetitions you can make
with the body and that all fills the box with a visual language in a way.

CB:
But it is also about sound, because all of the sixteen Nauman videos are very noisy when acti-
vated together.

BC:
I think this is also something you are quite surprised by when you experience the exhibition. Nor-
mally, Minimal art is represented as a very silent experience. There is no noise, no disturbance
whatsoever only visual and spatial impressions. In our show, sound is quite dominant: Martha
Rosler speaking to the grey man and Baldessari singing LeWitts sentences and then there is a
Ulrich Rckriem video, Kreise (1971), the Nauman videos as well as, of course, the FREE SOL
LEWITT factory generating noise like a real factory through the welding, sanding and cutting of
aluminium inside the museum. Interrupting the norm, one could say.

DM:
You make unexpected connections between Minimalist, Pop, and Conceptual art, showing how
they belong somehow to the same world and to the same time.

BC:
Yes. There are different links between different artists and we are trying to open Minimalism up;
but it is also a very beautiful Minimalist show. One can also experience it that way.

5 John Baldessari, Baldessari Sings LeWitt (1972)

6 Donald Judd, Untitled (1974-1976)

52 | FREE SOL LEWITT


The FREE SOL LEWITT Model

DM:
Lets talk about FREE SOL LEWITT as a model, what kind of social model are you articulating in
FREE SOL LEWITT?

BC:
If you want to change a society or a kind of thinking, you need to have examples or models,
something to talk from and speak about. The Minimalist artists also worked with this idea. Their
ideas allowed for another way of thinking and then they made objects that somehow represented
this way of thinking. In our work, we want to integrate these two elements, the thinking and the
process of making the object, and make these visible.

In the process, actual labour is a valuable step. It is not the author producing the object, it is
someone else and thats fine. The end result is not less of an artwork because it is someone else
who is producing it. We are taking that step maybe even further when we show all the elements
of this production together - the production of the idea and the making of the object. So I think
what we are doing is displaying a production machine, which is at the same time, a fabrication of
a machine that is producing value or at least encouraging a discussion of the creation of value.
We could also call it a value machine. Each time we make a copy it is not the original, it is a
replica, which is being made. Whenever that copy enters into another structure, it enters into
another value system depending on who is the receiver or user. For us it is important to start a
discussion about the role of (a person) owning a work as well as the role of the museum within
that value system.

DM:
Your project reactivates certain democratic possibilities in Conceptual and Minimalist art, par-
ticularly, that the idea can be the work and this can be universally shared which is a kind of no-
tion of democratic enfranchisement. It is in line with Sol LeWitts work, where you are trying to
reactivate the potentiality of the work as an idea, system and structure. We view these artworks
now as objects, which are treated as icons, almost imprisoned in their meaning in the numerous
public and private collections representations of Minimalist and Conceptual art. We should also
remember that these artists, including LeWitt, often held contradictory views on the demateriali-
sation of the artwork and the status of their works as objects too.

BC:
Yes. This is all part of the project; it is the raw material we discovered in the process of research-
ing the collection. Our challenge is to look at these iconic works and the enormous value they
have now as icons more than as information and ideas. We could have taken more or less any of
the works in the show to be copied and any of them would have been interesting. Some require
very small steps, like Dan Flavin just bought neon tubes and attached them to the box that came

DISCUSSION BETWEEN... | 53
with the neon tubes. It was not so much the actual work of Sol LeWitt but his thinking and ideas
as well as his approach that is valuable for us. When he said, the idea becomes the machine
that makes the art7, this is an important statement that we cherish.

DM:
Sol LeWitt also talked about collective ownership and how he was happy for people to copy his
work.

BC:
That also. But I think that in our specific project it is very much the display of the machine that is
important. A machine is already old school terminology that relates to industrial production. But it
works well for our thinking; one can talk about the value machine, the information machine or the
distribution machine being as important as the production machine. You have some sort of dis-
tribution machine that generates the use of the idea; an idea is not valuable before it is used8.
I think Sol LeWitt said that. I dont remember the exact quote now, but it is something like that.
You have to take the idea and bring it into something, like some action, before it has value, which
is one way of looking at it. This can be viewed in relation to the museum. The museum has differ-
ent roles, not only selecting and collecting and reconfiguring information from the past. Maybe
you can even push the borders of the museum so far that it starts taking an active and progres-
sive part in how history and culture evolves.

CB:
I have one question regarding the machine: why is the notion of the machine so important to
you?

BC:
The notion of the machine is attractive to understand social processes and progress. In practical
terms, when you display a machine you can also dismantle it and take its pieces apart. You can
look at each of the parts and create others. A machine is also what we call a tool for production
and distribution. It can be used on many levels, playfully, but also for something a little more ag-
gressive. When we refer to the system of rights, including intellectual property rights, such as
copyright, we refer to a machine that you cannot stop. It is such a big machine it just rolls away
and we just stand there and say, We cannot do anything against it anyway, because, for ex-
ample, the economic system around it has evolved over time into such a strong rights machine.

7 Sol Lewitt states in 'Paragraphs on Conceptual Art' published in 1967: In conceptual art the idea or concept
is the most important aspect of the work[] all of the planning and decisions are made beforehand and the
execution is a perfunctory affair. The idea becomes the machine that makes the art.

8 Sol LeWitt expresses in Comments on an Advertisement' published in Flash Art, April 1973: I believe that
ideas, once expressed, become the common property of all. They are invalid if not used, they only can be
given away and cannot be stolen. Ideas of art become the vocabulary of art and are used by other artists to
form their own ideas (even if unconsciously).

54 | FREE SOL LEWITT


CB:
You could see the machine as a metaphor for some processes in society?

BC:
Sure. They reach a certain level where they are so strong and so big that they are ideologies or
big machines that are unstoppable. But I think for us, SUPERFLEX, and I think for any citizen, we
should actually question that. But it is not enough just to question or criticise; you need to make
models, provide examples to challenge, create reactions and then you can also be criticised. It is
too easy just to criticise.

CB:
And that is why you are talking about the machine as a tool that can be taken apart and reas-
sembled again?

BC:
The beauty of this is that the Minimalist and Conceptual artists started out like this. What they
tried to do in the sixties and seventies, in my opinion, was somehow to understand what was
happening within society at this point: mass production, consumerism, and tonnes of products
with the same kind of content but labelled in different ways. It seemed that they found a way of
understanding this by making systems, which they disseminated at the same time. Sol LeWitt
makes all these lines, cubes and structures; Carl Andre takes something that is normally used
to make railroads or streets. He takes it, cuts it up and puts it into another structure. It refers to
what we are very interested in about today: access to information, open source movements and
so on. The raw materials or the idea is one thing, but the way you make it accessible and distrib-
ute it is then the value that can be used.

CB:
When you look, for instance, at Carl Andres works, because I think they are very good examples
for it, do you see them as elements that you can use to assemble something else?

BC:
Sure.

CB:
Yet in the museum they become a fixed object.

BC:
The problem with the value machine surrounding art is that all of a sudden these works, which
started out as being very open minded, as idea based and indifferent to whoever executed them,
all of a sudden became iconic objects which hold an enormous value. This is so heavy or thick
now that you cannot look past it, or it is difficult to look past. Today we have created many layers

DISCUSSION BETWEEN... | 55
of value around these iconic artworks. You need to break down those layers again to reach that
point where it originated. And that, I think, is what FREE SOL LEWITT tries to do. It takes it a
step further whilst challenging the museum, the understanding of what a museum is and what a
museum can do with their value of the collection or information.

CB:
The museum has contributed in establishing these glass walls. And in creating this iconic posi-
tion, but not only the museum, the art market has contributed to it too.

Exhibiting Minimalist/Conceptual Art

BC:
We are not art historians or represent the art market, but we are deeply involved, if I could put it
that way. We are being used and use the system.

CE:
One thing that makes me laugh a little bit is when you say, Well, Im not an art historian. Very
few artists and art historians would be able to get to where you have. So it is significant to rec-
ognise it as a process, which comes out of your own questions as an artist. You asked questions,
which wouldnt really be raised in the art historical systems that we are thinking in.

But I think you are right. The Minimalist artists were first trying to understand what they were do-
ing with this work in relation to the environment around them and particularly in New York, Soho,
old factories they were all closing down, but at the same time the production was still going on
around them, to some extent. That had to be a huge influence on them, being brought up or living
in a city based on a grid. So, it comes out of the very provincial, if you like, context of New York
at a particular moment and it seems to me that such a practice could only exist in that moment in
the United States, which was moving towards a post-industrial society. It hadnt yet arrived, so
their environment still had the values of the old industrial society of the 19th century, which was
still very much present in peoples thinking and understanding. The amazing step they made was
to take their actual conditions of life and produce something with them?
They were not like William Morris trying to go back to some archaic ideas of art production, but
rather to think, This is what we have; this is the world around us. This is the city; this is what it
looks like. These are the factories, which are closing down, which used to make the clothes that
we wore and things like that. How do we deal with this environment?
This is not part of a regular question asked in art history, not at all. So it is exceptional that you
had been able to get to that point where you can see the context and then articulate it in a work.

BC:
Indeed we made combinations to display some of these ways of thinking. In the exhibition in re-

56 | FREE SOL LEWITT


gards to Sol LeWitt, we have included his instructions of how to make a wall drawing. Normally
you would not do that; you would want to see the results. You want to see what the artist had
thought or had wanted it to look like, but by including instructions, you already guide people into
a way of thinking. That is also why we have created an Information Room in the gallerys spaces
which contains research material, including artists certificates, instructions and contracts from
this period.

CB:
Yes. The Sol LeWitt Wall Drawing is not executed; it is presented in the form of framed instruc-
tions, which raises the question of where the work begins and ends.

BC:
In this way we value his instructions in the same way as we value all the other objects in the
show and that, I think, is important because the idea comes first for us. Sol LeWitt invites some-
one else to use the instructions - students or whoever it might be, they could execute the in-
structions. The execution naturally allows alterations and so on.

CB:
You also look for actions not only in the form of instructions, but also in the videos containing art-
ists actions.

BC:
Yes. We were trying to be playful, but with such valuable raw material, such loaded material, that
is quite a challenge. But Christiane you also said that, As an artist you can do this, but I could
not do it as an art historian or as someone from the museum. You couldnt handle things in this
way or make these combinations of artists positions, because there is a whole art history that
surrounds these works. There is also the matter of how to break this down. Even though at times
FREE SOL LEWITT may seem formal in the installation, but we are trying to break down quite a
few value layers to dig into the core of the work.

CB:
That is why I liked very much working with you and Daniel on the exhibition, because it made it
possible to rethink how to show these works. For me, it would not have been possible as the
curator of this museum and I have been working here for a while with these works. One needs,
and the museum needs, this input from outside. It needs this dialogue with external people to
come to another way of dealing with making an exhibition from the collection.

BC:
I would say that with FREE SOL LEWITT we are taking this even further. We are asking you to
also deal with the reception of the work in another context, including the private home. This could
lead to another kind of use that one cannot imagine. A museum or the owner uses an artwork

DISCUSSION BETWEEN... | 57
in one way, but if you allow others to use it as well, then maybe you will have hundreds of new
types of use. And you may experience that this person over there has a new or better idea in
relation to your understanding of the artwork and then you include that in your way of thinking, in
your value system.

DM:
Are you implicitly referring to an open source model for sharing information?

BC:
By passing on an idea I think you do already have an open source model. The challenge for the
museum is how it uses that information or that knowledge that someone else creates from hav-
ing this object. Here we are providing two challenges: we are challenging the normal system of
preservation and presentation of an artists work within that value system that has been created
over time, and the copyright system, by releasing the work out of the museum and into another
persons property sphere. And then we are asking how do we use that knowledge, which is then
produced from the accessibility to that material. In the end, that is the core of the project.
In other words, how do people use these objects and how does the usage change the relation to
the object and its environment and the society.

DM:
You have placed no restrictions on people as far as the usage of FREE SOL LEWITT is con-
cerned except it is acknowledged that the replicas are not works by Sol LeWitt.

BC:
There is no restriction on how one can use them. It would be wrong to place any restrictions.
Someone can use it differently from how I would have. We could gather hundreds of people in
the museum who would agree on a specific way on how to use it and then one person next door
would have a brilliant alternative way of thinking. This relates to the problem that limitations cre-
ate for sharing information. You end up maybe stopping a process that was very important for the
progress of our society. This process, action, alteration or new invention is much more valuable
than thinking about how one could protect this persons or companys or whoevers idea. In the
end, it is about access to create within the value machine. This is more important than closing
down or protecting the original idea.

CB:
Now I am thinking of the way we have shown these works in the past and the way we showed
them was related to the exhibitions we made with the artists. Carl Andre and Donald Judd - they
all came to the Van Abbe and made solo exhibitions with their work. You need to know ideally
how the artist intended his work to be displayed. When that is clear, this moment comes when
you should be allowed to reinterpret and re-evaluate the work, it should not just be treated in a
narrow way as an icon.

58 | FREE SOL LEWITT


BC:
The Van Abbe is a fantastic resource because you have worked with all these artists. Many other
museums and collectors have just bought one piece from these artists and then they are just
icons. But the fact that the artists have been here in the Van Abbemuseum, they have worked
here, sweated and engaged with you, that is the power of the history of the Van Abbe. That is
valuable.

But you are right that most of these works have been represented so many times now not only
within the Van Abbe, but in catalogues, in magazines, etc. Everyone knows them, at least in the
Contemporary art field. I dont think it is wrong to move on to another way of using them. The
value and the history will remain, you cannot remove that. As soon as it is printed in a book and in
the archives, it is there. You can always go back and look at it. That is why it was also fine for us
to respond to your concept of Time Machines.

In the exhibition, you can look at the original Sol LeWitt in the context of how he and the work
would normally be presented. Then you go to another room, the FREE SOL LEWITT room, and
there is another way of expressing and working with his idea.

It is important for people to understand that there is no harm done to the original here. On the
contrary, there is so much new value added to Sol LeWitt and the structure. For the audience
who love to experience the value around the original, it is here and we respect that also. The gen-
eral perception is to look at artworks in a museum, not to touch them, not to move them or inter-
act with them in any way. This fetishism leads back to the whole discussion about the copyright
machine and the economic machine that is wrapped around the protection of works and artists
rights and estates, which of course is one part of our project. We are not so interested in a battle
with an artists estate. In some way the estates are just representing the artists, but the problem
is that today they are also representing an artist who produced objects that have a huge value
and they have to relate all of sudden to the auction houses, the galleries and the private collectors
who deal with the artworks - the representation on all levels within the economic value machine.

DM:
You say that it is not so interesting for you to battle against the artists estate, but at the same
time it becomes an important part of the project in the sense that the estate controls the copy-
right in the artists work and can potentially prevent your project from occurring by exercising its
legal rights.

BC:
If necessary, we will engage in a battle because you need to challenge that understanding. The
estate should understand that there is no harm in making copies, the artist is represented and
respected, and so is his value.

DISCUSSION BETWEEN... | 59
CE:
Actually it seems to me by doing this project you come to a much closer understanding of what
this work might once have been and what it might be proposing. You do this more effectively
than through those techniques traditionally associated with looking in the museum ever did, and
it is this approach that causes the question of the market and value to fall by the wayside. We
can look at the work again, in fact, even as we have to deal with market at the same time. But
from our point of view in the museum, we want to understand our collection in a variety of ways,
not just permit one dominant interpretation. We want to come closer to the collection to know
more about it, to gain knowledge from it. We even want to allow it to produce new knowledge.
During that process we need different tools for different works; and different tools for different
moments in time; and in some cases these tools need to be generated.

This is one of the strong points about the fact that your FREE SOL LEWITT work is not provoca-
tive in attacking the market or some special interests or whatever. For me, it is simply trying to
understand what this thing is and to take the artists proposition at face value. In those terms,
perhaps one of the easiest ways of understanding it is to make the work again.

CB:
Ironically enough, it is a very old way of trying to understand the work because you see a lot of
people copying paintings. In art schools, copying has traditionally been a technique in order to
understand what the work is about.

Artistic Commonwealth

DM:
One of the interesting questions raised by FREE SO LEWITT is the artistic commonwealth.
Artists historically work within a whole inherited practice, with traditions of copying, where open
copying between artists and the distribution of knowledge and ideas has been key. This might
be described as an artistic commonwealth. The artistic commonwealth is potentially undermined
by copyright law, which regulates the reproduction and distribution of cultural works, including
artistic works.

BC:
You can take the quote from Sol LeWitt, he says: If someone borrows from me, it makes me richer
not poorer, We artists I believe, are part of a single community, sharing the same language9.

9 'Comments on an Advertisement' published in Flash Art, (April 1973) in 'Sol LeWitt: Critical Texts', reprinted
from Flash Art, no. 41, Milan, June 1973, pp.97-99.

60 | FREE SOL LEWITT


DM:
Your project in the Van Abbemuseum is important, because it is entrenching a cultural practice, if
you like. The artistic commonwealth must not be undermined through the use of copyright law by
artists estates and copyright collection societies.10

CE:
That is an incredibly important point especially for how we work in the museum, because it is
often a question about what we actually own. For paintings or sculptures, it comes down to the
fact that we own the canvas and the wooden frame; or we own the metal or the paint, but we
dont own anything more than that. The ownership of what, in a sense, is meaningful about the
work and the image lies elsewhere.

There is this huge investment of public capital into works that are subsequently stripped out of
the work and basically (re)privatised, in some cases, by aggressive artists estates or copyright
organisations. The sad fact is that sometimes the original public investment barely got to the art-
ist in his or her lifetime.

I like very much this idea of an artistic commonwealth because it extends into the idea of the
well-being of society and the possibility for artists to exercise their potential in society. These
works then need to have some sort of status as being commonly held property. The fact that we
have it, does not give us the right to exploit it, but I think it could give everybody else the right to
exploit it, so that it becomes common, and I think that is something for public museums to work
on. This would make a distinction between private collections and public collections, because
we need to understand that public collections have a certain interest and commitment to making
things common.

BC:
That goes back to giving the idea the full possibility of unfolding on many levels when we talk
about the potential of an artists work. We need to make the best models, forms and systems, so
that it can be developed to its full potential. And you do not do that with blocking off every step
you want to make with that work. This applies both to living and dead artists.

We are interested to relate to the system of rights that is so dominant in our culture today. You
think about ownership before you even think about the idea. You just want to own something.
You have a little bit of an idea, and when you see someone else having an idea, you just take
parts of that and then you already call someone to protect your rights.

10 After a discussion and argumentation from the side of the museum as well as SUPERFLEX the Sol LeWitt
Estate has consented to the project.

DISCUSSION BETWEEN... | 61
CE:
There has always been an acceptance of this idea of inspiration or influence. But if we imagine
that our society historically had been dominated by copyright, then actually where would we be as
a creative community today? Without being able to use our heritage, the heritage is cut from us.

This is an extreme example, but I think it is quite relevant in a way to what the copyright world
does. A classic moment in Turkish history was when the writing system changed in two weeks
from Arabic script to Latin script. Experts said it needed years to adapt, but the Turks only got
two weeks from Mustafa Kemal. For two weeks newspaper appeared in both scripts, then only in
Latin. That radically modernized Turkey, but it completely cut contemporary Turks from their Otto-
man heritage and connection to that past. Now that still has radical effects for the Turkish public.
This is the kind of radical break that belongs to modernity, and in an odd way the rights machine
might have the same effect.

DM:
Absolutely. Although copyright law does not provide absolute rights (there are for example, ex-
emptions or defences available for users of protected material), copyright law can lead to a lock-
down of culture. One of the prominent aspects of recent copyright law has been not just the pro-
liferation of rights, but their perpetual extension and duration. If you look at copyright law in the
18th century, under the Statute of Queen Anne of 1710, for example, copyright lasted for fifteen
years. This was for literary authors only, and now it applies to every cultural medium and it lasts
for the lifetime of the author plus seventy years. Copyright was originally a tool of free expression
against state censorship but has developed to protect the interests of corporate owners that
require a perpetual monopoly, for which it wasnt intended.

CE:
And the monopoly extends?

DM:
Yes, continuously.

BC:
So we need to understand the system to be able to benefit from it.

DM:
The machine is out of control. You can argue that there is some legitimacy to the machine in a
minimal form that it acts as a system of incentives to authors to produce cultural works, provided
it is kept within very clear boundaries, including temporal boundaries, which recognise the public
domain and freedom of expression. But the whole thing has now become this monster, which is
out of control.

62 | FREE SOL LEWITT


CE:
One thing that strikes me about the 21st century is that geographically the spotlights of creative
renewal are shifting away from Western Europe, and possibly even more radically away from
the United States. It would be interesting to think whether this enforcement of copyright, which
happens of course much more in Western Europe and North America, than it does in China or
India, has a lot to do with it. The collective passivity that we tend to have in the West - the lack
of a kind of real desire to think about the future might be connected to this increasing immobility
of the past. We cant really use our heritage in an effective way at the moment. Societies that do
use both their heritage and ours much more effectively are those where the copyright laws and
the intellectual property are much less locked down and controlled.

BC:
Yes, the size and strength of the machine is leading to a poor progression in culture and we, the
West, are not able to move or take another path because of this machine.

The role and responsibility of the museum

CE:
When I came to the Van Abbe, it was the first time that I had a collection to run. And initially I
didnt really realise what was here, and what was the basis of this institution. Gradually I came to
realise that this is an incredible resource but that it was mainly used for its symbolic or perhaps
representative power and not for its content. In other words, just showing people the treasury so
that you can say, Look, isnt that beautiful? and assure yourself and them of your importance
and the stability of cultural values. Once you get in there and start looking at all the things in the
treasury you realise it has much greater and amazing potential.

What SUPERFLEX discovered in the work of Sol LeWitt can be discovered in other works in the
Van Abbes collection. It just needs to be presented or framed in ways that do not damage that
treasury, but release something of the energy or power that is already in there. The collection
then becomes the raw material that we need to invite artists, curators and even visitors to work
with. The museum then ceases to be a treasure chest and becomes a kind of generating station.

BC:
A proactive machine!

CE:
Yes. You have this material, which can generate energy that can be put to use in other ways. This
is what I hope we are beginning to develop. The selection of SUPERFLEX has maybe released
something in the works. It has made them alive again and introduces a new history also for the
future.

DISCUSSION BETWEEN... | 63
If you want to release that energy in the collection, it is obvious that you need to get out of the
museum. While you also need the building in order to transmit it. Transmitting the ideas of the
works and their energy is something that this project does very well. It is also what we want to
try to do in general, to become a transmitter rather than a receiver of visitors, which is how the
museum has traditionally been imagined and is now reflected in the spectacular architecture of
the late 20th century museum.

BC:
We discussed the point that the museum is not only there to entertain. This perception has to be
challenged. One has to think that there is no wall between the museum and society. The museum
is part of it, completely. People come to the museum and take a work out, literally and then they
bring something else back. Another use, another way of thinking.

CE:
Our job as an institution is to allow that flow out to produce flows back that we do not control.
What is important is to get the flow going in two directions. I think at the moment the main flow
out of the museum is propaganda and the flow into it is people. The propaganda is designed to
encourage an already determined result. That is the model now. Once you change those flows
into more complex and different kinds of information exchange then new modes of viewership
emerge. It is probably always going to be for a relatively small number of people, but I am not
even sure of that. It is certainly worth trying to speak to a mass audience like this.

BC:
I think it is fine to have contemporary art museums that have different ideologies about the ac-
cess and distribution of information.

CE:
We all are limited by our geographical location. However, I think that the museum should not at-
tempt to be universal. I hope that we are getting away from the idea of a universal ambition for a
museum.

DM:
I think an important question is: how far can a museum go in protecting the rights of one artist
against those of another?

CE:
As an artist in this project, Bjrn you mentioned that there is no actual damage done to the origi-
nal work. The only damage that could be done to the work is conceptual, that is important to re-
call. I think what we must always do is to maintain and conserve the work, so that people after us
are able to go back to what we now know as the classic position of presentation of the artwork;
or do something else entirely with it and take it in a different direction. I think you have to keep

64 | FREE SOL LEWITT


the potential for that work to always be interpreted radically and be open to understanding that
our position belongs to our time. I think that is one of our responsibilities. If you had said that
SUPERFLEX wants to cut the Sol LeWitt in pieces, then that would have been unacceptable,
because then that possibility of going back to the situation before this exhibition had happened
would not be there anymore. And that is something I could not allow. It always has to be able to
be reversibly engineered.

CB:
That is a very nice notion because reversibility is also an important criterion in conservation. It is
a very important principle to conservators. Everything that you do in or with an artwork needs to
be reversible.

BC:
We are coming back to the dissemination of a work. We have donated FREE SOL LEWITT to
the Van Abbe, so it is part of the collection and there is continuation. There are two positions
now in the collection, the Sol LeWitt work and the FREE SOL LEWITT, maybe there will be an-
other position about the same work in the future.

DM:
In a sense, the museum is acquiring a set of relations more than a conventional object. Each time
FREE SOL LEWITT is reactivated, it is in relation to a configuration of aesthetic, economic, politi-
cal and legal relations, which surround it at that time.

CE:
When you buy or receive a work like this you also try to set up a possibility that narratives can
start to extend out to it into the future. There are narratives of people and activities that are done
which are as relevant to the work as the object itself. What surrounds the work? The possibility
of narratives should already be thought about in the production of the work and its acquisition.

You can set up the conditions, if you like, in which relations can emerge, because you have the
curator, the institution and the artist speaking to each other and then somebody comes in and
uses that as the basis to develop the work further or to take it in a particular direction, given that
there is permission. For us, a work very seldom stops, it can continue on many levels and for many
people. That is quite a different relation to a work than the artist him/herself. If we in the museum
have a confrontation or discover relevant information or relationships to a work we need to react
to it and maybe with that we rethink the installation or the work, or ask the artist to do so.

If, for example, the estate of Sol LeWitt would have rejected the productions of the copies we
might have come back to the question of How can we change it, so that we can still produce
something?, but something that is no longer threatening in the same way.

DISCUSSION BETWEEN... | 65
DM:
Bjrn, as an artist, how do you think about the ongoing relationship between artists and muse-
ums in the future?

BC:
I think that maybe this is the time when the institution can make a different approach in stating
that we as a museum will not acquire a work unless you as an artist agrees that we (the Van
Abbe) can reproduce the work that we now have acquired in any format because we are not
here to harm your work; we are here to represent you in the best possible way to achieve the full
potential of your work, and that means full access to your work. The artist is our partner in this
ambition.

It is a political statement to the rest of the museum world saying that this is how we want to
organise our collection. We are a public collection; we are responsible to the public; we use its
money, and therefore we cannot accept the current copyright limitations. What we own or have
the right for now due to the copyright system is just a canvas and a wooden frame but not the
actual image. This does not enable us to represent the artist and the public. This should be your
approach.

CE:
I think that is right. Our obligation to you is to represent you in the best way possible and if you
feel at some point that this is not being done then you would have certain rights to withdraw the
work from public display. For me, artists should have agreements with museums rather than rely
upon copyright.

There should be some mutual responsibilities that go from the museum to the artist. Artists must
have some sort of legal power to say, Well, this is clearly not in my interest, if asked. Not that
they should sign away all rights, but they should not fall into the commodification trap.

DM:
I think this is the case particularly if the artists die as well where there is the shift between copy-
right being exercised by authors and by owners. And that is one of the problems if ownership
changes, particularly in art.

CE:
Yes. That is true. But this is where agreements between museums and living artists could make a
real difference. Often the artists themselves are much more aware.

DM:
Like Sol LeWitt.

66 | FREE SOL LEWITT


The interview between Christiane Berndes, Bjrnstjerne Christiansen, Charles Esche and
Daniel McClean washeldattheVanAbbemuseum just beforetheopeningofthe In-between
Minimalisms exhibition.Theintervieworiginally lasted for two and a half hours and was edited
for this publication to focus on a series of issues that reflect the interests and concerns of the
various participants in the project.

DISCUSSION BETWEEN... | 67
IN-BETWEEN
MINIMALISMS
Collection Van Abbemuseum

68 | FREE SOL LEWITT


Floor plan

A1-04 A1-05 A1-07

A1-03 A1-06 A1-08

A1-02 A1-09

A1-01 A1-10

A1-01: Dan Flavin, Donald Judd, A1-06: Information Room


Yves Klein, Sol LeWitt
A1-07: Daniel Buren, Ulrick Rckriem,
A1-02: Carl Andre, Alan Charlton, Lawrence Weiner
Martha Rosler, Andy Warhol
A1-08: Donald Judd, Bruce Nauman
A1-03: Carl Andre, John Baldessari,
Ian Wilson A1-09: Jo Baer, stanley brouwn,
Hanne Darboven, Ad Dekkers,
A1-04: Robert Morris, Niele Toroni, Sol LeWitt, Royden Rabinowitch,
Lawrence Weiner Robert Ryman

A1-05: SUPERFLEX / FREE SOL LEWITT A1-10: Carl Andre, stanley brouwn,
Dan Flavin

| 69
Yves Klein, Sol LeWitt

70 | FREE SOL LEWITT


Sol LeWitt

Donald Judd, Dan Flavin

IN-BETWEEN MINIMALISMS / ROOM A1-01 | 71


Andy Warhol, Carl Andre, Alan Charlton

72 | FREE SOL LEWITT


IN-BETWEEN MINIMALISMS / ROOM A1-02 | 73
Alan Charlton, Carl Andre

74 | FREE SOL LEWITT


Martha Rosler, Carl Andre

Martha Rosler

IN-BETWEEN MINIMALISMS / ROOM A1-02 | 75


Ian Wilson, John Baldassari, Carl Andre

76 | FREE SOL LEWITT


IN-BETWEEN MINIMALISMS / ROOM A1-03 | 77
John Baldassari, Carl Andre

John Baldassari

78 | FREE SOL LEWITT


Ian Wilson

IN-BETWEEN MINIMALISMS / ROOM A1-03 | 79


Robert Morris, Lawrence Weiner

80 | FREE SOL LEWITT


IN-BETWEEN MINIMALISMS / ROOM A1-04 | 81
Lawrence Weiner, Robert Morris, Niele Toroni

82 | FREE SOL LEWITT


IN-BETWEEN MINIMALISMS / ROOM A1-04 | 83
I believe that ideas, once ex-
pressed, become the common
property of all. They are invalid if
not used, they can only be given
away and cannot be stolen.
Ideas of art become the vocabu-
lary of art and are used by other
artists to form their own ideas
(even if unconsciously).

Sol LeWitt, 1973*

* 'Comments on an Advertisement' published in Flash Art, (April 1973) in 'Sol LeWitt: Critical Texts', reprinted
from Flash Art, no. 41, Milan, June 1973, pp.97-99.
IN-BETWEEN MINIMALISMS / ROOM A1-06 | 85
Certificates and instructions by various artists

86 | FREE SOL LEWITT


Display of artist' books

IN-BETWEEN MINIMALISMS / ROOM A1-06 | 87


Ulrich Rckriem, Lawrence Weiner

88 | FREE SOL LEWITT


Ulrich Rckriem, Daniel Buren

Lawrence Weiner Daniel Buren

IN-BETWEEN MINIMALISMS / ROOM A1-07 | 89


Bruce Nauman, Donald Judd

90 | FREE SOL LEWITT


IN-BETWEEN MINIMALISMS / ROOM A1-08 | 91
Bruce Nauman.

Bruce Nauman.

92 | FREE SOL LEWITT


Bruce Nauman.

Bruce Nauman.

IN-BETWEEN MINIMALISMS / ROOM A1-08 | 93


Ad Dekkers, Jo Baer, Robert Ryman, Royden Rabinowitch

94 | FREE SOL LEWITT


IN-BETWEEN MINIMALISMS / ROOM A1-09 | 95
Robert Ryman, Sol LeWitt, Royden Rabinowitch

96 | FREE SOL LEWITT


IN-BETWEEN MINIMALISMS / ROOM A1-09 | 97
Sol LeWitt

98 | FREE SOL LEWITT


IN-BETWEEN MINIMALISMS / ROOM A1-09 | 99
Dan Flavin, Carl Andre

100 | FREE SOL LEWITT


IN-BETWEEN MINIMALISMS / ROOM A1-10 | 101
Systems
Thinking
Charles Esche

102 | FREE SOL LEWITT


SUPERFLEX is in the proposition business. As an artist collective it develops its work out of
systems that it finds pre-existing in the world and suggests how they might be turned to differ-
ent use or effect. In this sense, the practice of SUPERFLEX is not a classically imaginative one
alone, though it requires the imagination to set the process in motion. Rather, it is more often
concrete, down to earth, and practical in its aspirations and effects. Behaviours and perceptions
can change in measurable ways after SUPERFLEX has carried out its work, sometimes tempo-
rarily, sometimes for good.

This is also why what they do is so obviously not autonomous, in the sense that it relies on play-
ing with the rules established by others rather than seeking to make up their own, as autonomy
might seem to demand. Within the western worlds fine art traditions, this lack of autonomy at
the core of the project might seem to be a weakness. If artists are dependent on structures
outwith their control then the extent in which they are able to express themselves might be chal-
lenged. But this tradition, though still strangely resilient to all the cultural and economic changes
of the past fifty years, is itself part of the structural questioning that SUPERFLEXs work seeks to
provoke. It wants to propose that the field of art can be a platform on which surrounding social,
cultural and especially economic expectations can be analysed. In this they build on the tradi-
tions of North American institutional critique from the 1970s onwards, but they do so with less
introspection towards the art world. Its recent project FREE SOL LEWITT, which this publication
is centred on, is not only dealing with an issue within arts internal discourse. The question of
ownership, patents and the whole system of rights as SUPERFLEX calls it, is broadly the same
for art as for all other products, there being no clear legal definition or exemption for art in terms
of rights and copyright. Indeed, the fact that the machinery of rights does not recognise art, while
limiting and controlling huge parts of our creative activity as human beings, is one of the core
problematic that this project throws up.

The central claim behind FREE SOL LEWITT and indeed much of the copy product artworks
that SUPERFLEX has produced in the last years is one of its rights, partly as artists and partly
as citizens, to comment on the surrounding environment through directly quoting the human-
made objects that shape and define it. Now, it should be clear to most of us under the influence
of the media that the processes of commodification are more or less complete in advanced
societies. In other words, most things, save perhaps the air, have been translated into monetary
value and become part of the circulation of global exchange of goods and services that drives
our economy. These objects, having become commodities now, are subjected to the ownership
of individuals and corporations who gain rights over them, including the right to deny anyone
else the use of them without permission. Thus we have the tragic sight of farmers being unable
to keep their own seeds because different species of plant (as abstract concepts not physical
kernels) have been patented and planting them would breach a corporations patent rights. Be-
ing sued for such violations has resulted in bankruptcy and even suicide in certain countries. The
extent of commodification and the machinery of rights enforced by nation states that permits it to
happen is now greater than it has ever been, effecting more objects, products and more areas of

CHARLES ESCHE / SYSTEMS THINKING | 103


the globe than ever before. Now, while artists could in all probability depict patented life-forms
without any consequence, the extension of art into the fields of performance, action and life
means that at some point such patent laws are likely to come into conflict with the artistic free-
dom to work with the materials artists feel influenced by or through which they would make their
position visible. Such potential conflicts are even more probable under copyright law that lasts
for a considerably longer period, continuing after the death of the author. Indeed, while under the
terms of an imagined artistic commonwealth, quotation is often allowed during an artists lifetime;
it is artist estates, as well as photography agencies, that pose the greatest threat to the free use
of material for artistic purposes.

One perhaps unintended consequence of the enforcement of copyright and patent legislation
has been that now, two or three post-1945 generations have grown up and formed themselves
within a branded environment that is already owned and protected by corporations and indi-
viduals. That means that the memories of childhood, the reactions to certain sights, sounds or
flavours and their subsequent use to make art could potentially become loaded with legal difficul-
ties if an artist would choose to do more than simply depict it in a classical manner. As a com-
parison, we can imagine the Impressionists, who reached out towards the natural environment
and their immediate surroundings for inspiration, nowadays would be stopped from painting hay
fields or lily ponds because the owners of these natural phenomena had previously patented the
use of the image. One could indeed ask why Matisses gardener was not compensated from the
profits of his water lily paintings, or why the ancestors of poor, potato-eating Brabant farmers are
not rich through the value bestowed on early Van Goghs. This might sound absurd perhaps, but
if your environment is made up not of plants but of branded designer light fittings; not by gar-
dens but by films on DVD, then what is the qualitative difference when you use them as an artist
to start to make new work? It is this question that SUPERFLEX has precisely and consistently
explored in its work. The simple act of copying a Guarana drink products labelling led to a ban
of the work at the 2006 So Paulo Biennial, while making copies of Poul Henningsen lighting
powered by biogas1, or opening a copyshop where products could be made from scratch and
taken away for free have challenged commercial companies who, though actually losing very little
cash in the process, feel threatened by the precedent that may be set by allowing such a project
to go ahead. Thus SUPERFLEX has had, at times, lawsuits and cease and desist orders issued
against some of its projects.

It must be added in fairness that there is much more sympathy and laxity in the application of
copyright and patent law against artists than against farmers or copy product factories. This is
partly the result of an unofficial artistic commonwealth in which imitation can still be understood
as flattery. For instance, when it came to Douglas Gordons use of Hitchcocks films2 or Pierre

1 SUPERFLEX. BIOGAS PH 5 LAMP. http://www.superflex.net/tools

2 Medien Kunst Netz. Gordon, Douglas: 24 Hour Psycho. http://www.medienkunstnetz.de/works/24-hour-


psycho/

104 | FREE SOL LEWITT


Huyghes use of a number of classic 1930s films, the original studios did not take out litigation.
Yet, the actual legal situation is that artists and more significantly their estates have the right to
deny the reuse of their material by other artists. For instance, Damien Hirst recently took out
legal action against a sixteen-year-old graffiti and collage artist for using images of his work via
the rights enforcement body in the United Kingdom called DACS (Design and Artists Copyright
Society).3

This might have also been the case with the project FREE SOL LEWITT but fortunately the Le-
Witt Estate has been very co-operative for which much thanks. Their willingness to honour some
of Sol LeWitts own remarks about the commonwealth of artists and that ideas are the common
property of all is really exceptional at a time when the enforcers are becoming more and more
strict in their application of what room for interpretation there might be. Elsewhere in this publica-
tion, Daniel McClean, who has been instrumental in realising this project with SUPERFLEX, talks
more fully about Sol LeWitts radical legacy, but it is worth stressing once again that without
such clear and generous statements about his own artistic process, this work and the production
it involved would have been much more difficult. So, in one sense at least, SUPERFLEX is in this
gesture freeing the intentions of LeWitt from their subsequent and inevitable commodifications.
Thinking about LeWitts legacy leads us to the role of the museum in all this, the Van Abbemu-
seum in particular as well as museums in general. State or locally funded and owned art muse-
ums occupy a crucial role as public institutions dedicated to care for collective cultural memory.
One might go so far as to say that they have a democratic role in as much as democracy needs
informed and thoughtful citizens in order to function well. To carry out these tasks properly, it
clearly involves more than simply the care and conservation of objects in their care. Their public
role demands an interpretative and active production of meaning and an awareness that the orig-
inal context of an artwork is constantly being lost and replaced with new social and economic
environments which also changes the potential of the artwork. The issue then becomes how
to balance the desire to restore both material and contextual originality with the equally strong
desire to interpret the original intentions of the artist in the light of the current moment. While
one requires the probably impossible task of freezing what is inevitably dynamic, the other is
constantly frustrated by its inability to keep up with times that are running away from it. Neverthe-
less, it is in recognising and accepting this tension and the inevitable failures that it represents,
that art museums can perform their crucial public function. This is certainly the approach we have
taken at the Van Abbemuseum in the course of both the Plug In series and the Play Van Abbe
programme of which SUPERFLEXs FREE SOL LEWITT forms a crucial part. By focusing on
a single work in the collection and reproducing it inside the museum, they naturally give much
added weight and attention to the work. They also add the stories that can be told about it in the
future. More than that however, I understand this gesture as an attempt to repristinate the work.

3 Akbar, Afria. Hirst demands share of artists 65 copies. In The Independent. 6 December 2008. http://
www.independent.co.uk/arts-entertainment/art/news/hirst-demands-share-of-artists-16365-copies-
1054424.html

CHARLES ESCHE / SYSTEMS THINKING | 105


The term repristinisation used by Sarat Maharaj, is the making completely new of something ex-
isting. This is not only literally done through the production of the copies but also through repris-
ing the imagined conditions of their original context.

In the late 1960s and 1970s, many artists from the United States and elsewhere began to con-
gregate in New Yorks factory district south of Houston Street. This neighbourhood of SoHo was
emptying out as many of the warehouses used by local manufacturing businesses were being
outsourced or giving up, unable to compete with the economies of scale of larger corporations
and the beginnings of global production. Thus, while artists were inventing loft living in their stu-
dios, they must also have been conscious of their immediate predecessors in the buildings and
the functions of the spaces into which they were moving. As an early adopter of the trend, Sol
LeWitt would have most likely seen the transformation in progress and thus the idea of putting
a functioning small-scale metal workshop next to a display of Minimal and Conceptual art would
hardly have seemed unusual to him.

An essential element then of FREE SOL LEWITT is this recognition or even recapturing of a par-
ticular past and a moment of economic change. It speculates that this moment might have had a
critical influence on the work that was produced in SoHo at that time, an influence that was more
experiential than theoretical, more in the body than in the mind even as the artists were con-
structing what came to be known as American Conceptual art. For our purposes today, at least
in the museum, this reference to a time and place is very helpful in steering the discussion away
from the universal, eternal nature of form and concept that is also a necessary element to under-
stand the ambition of the artists of that age. Necessary in the sense that it was part of their own
discourse and the way they saw themselves as producers of primary forms that were not taint-
ed by kitsch or provincialism. However, more than forty years later, we can suggest that provin-
cialism, in the sense of being tied to a particular culture and place rather than in any derogatory
sense, did play a role. Recognising this, gives us space today. Space to permit the contributions
of many provinces to a globalised art discourse and space to see the quality of American art of
the 1960s and 1970s without succumbing either to hegemonic rapture or to insolent disagree-
ment. It was a crucial story, but it was one of a number of possible narratives occurring around
the world at the time, connected through aesthetics and sensibility but also divided by their pro-
vincial outlooks. In this sense, SUPERFLEX adds significantly to the possible ways in which Mini-
malism, and specifically the Minimal and Conceptual collection in the Van Abbemuseum, can be
looked at in the future. This is truly of benefit for the museum in its self-understanding of how to
deploy the material evidence of its collective cultural memory. It demonstrates how one genera-
tion of artists is both inspired by and thoughtful of another and how the systems of display and
ownership are, just as in the 1960s and 1970s, a topic that occupies artistic thinking today.

106 | FREE SOL LEWITT


| 107
IN-BETWEEN MINIMALISMS
List of works
Room A1-01 Room A1-03 Room A1-06
pages 70-71 pages 76-79 pages 84-87

Dan Flavin Carl Andre Information Room


Monument on Mrs. Reppins Twenty-fifth steel Cardinal, 1974. Certificates, instructions, con-
survival, 1966. Fluorescent light Steel. tracts of artworks in the collection
tubes. of the Van Abbemuseum as well
John Baldessari as artists books and texts on
Donald Judd Baldessari Sings Lewitt, 1972. Minimal and Conceptual art were
Untitled (Progression), 1969. Video, PAL, black-and-white, presented in three display cases
Aluminium. sound. in the Information Room.

Yves Klein Ian Wilson Texts on Minimal and


Monochrome Blue, Untitled (IKB Circle on the Floor, 1968. Chalk. Conceptual Art
63), 1959. Pigment, synthetic Yves Klein, Formula for Interna-
resin on wood. tional Klein Blue, 1960 in Didier
Semin Le Peintre et son Modle
Sol LeWitt Room A1-04 Dpos, Mamco, Gneve, 2001.
Certificate of: Wall Drawing No. pages 80-82
256. 1975. Graphite, chalk, latex Martha Buskirk, The Contingent
on wall. Certificate: Ink on paper, Robert Morris Object of Contemporary Art, MIT
wood frame. 9 H-shapes, 1968. Aluminium. Press, 2003.

Niele Toroni James Meyer Thought made


Imprints of a Brush No. 50, Re- Visible 1966-1973: Mel Bochner,
Room A1-02 peated at regular Intervals, 1975. Yale University, 1995.
pages 72-75 Synthetic paint on oilcloth.
Alexander Alberro Conceptual
Carl Andre Lawrence Weiner Art and the Politics of Publicity,
Palisade, 1976. Wood. SMALL STONES SCATTERED MIT, 2003.
ON THE GROUND, 1986. Lan-
Alan Charlton guage and materials referred to, Alexander Alberro At the
Untitled,1979. Acrylic on canvas. adhesive foil. Threshold of Art as Information
in Recording Conceptual Art,
Martha Rosler Alexander Alberro & Patricia Nor-
Semiotics of the Kitchen, 1975. vell (ed.), University of California
Video, PAL, black-and-white, Room A1-05 Press, 2001.
sound. pages 10-35
Donald Judd Specific Objects
Andy Warhol SUPERFLEX (1959) in Complete Writings,
Campbells Soup, 1968. Silk- FREE SOL LEWITT Van Abbemuseum, Eindhoven,
screen on paper. Workshop producing copies of 1986.
Sol LeWitt's Untitled (Wall Struc-
ture), 1972. Mixed media.

108 | FREE SOL LEWITT


Lucy R. Lippard Six Years: The Mel Bochner ed., Xerox-page
Dematerialization of the Art Ob- from Working drawings and other Room A1-08
ject, Studio Vista, 1973. visible things on paper not neces- pages 90-93
sarily meant to be viewed as art,
Sol LeWitt Paragraphs on Con- New York, 1966. Donald Judd
ceptual Art (1967) in Conceptual Untitled, 1974-1976. Wood.
Art: a critical anthology, Alexander Sol LeWitt Work Completed
Alberro & Blake Stimson, MIT, 1969, Sperone/Fischer, Torino, Bruce Nauman
1999. 1974. Bouncing in the Corner No. 1,
1968. Video, PAL, black-and-
Exhibition Catalogue, Live in Your Martha Rosler Service; A Trilogy white, sound.
Head (curator Harald Szeemann), on Colonization, Printed Matter,
Kunsthalle Bern, Switzerland, Inc., New York, 1978. Flesh to White to Black to Flesh,
1969. 1968. Video, PAL, black and
Carl Andre, 144 Blocks & white, sound.
Exhibition Catalogue, Information Stones, Portland Ore, 1973.
(curator Kynaston L. McShine), Slow Angle Walk (Beckett Walk),
Museum of Modern Art, New York, Robert Barry, Sperone Editore, 1968. Video, PAL, black and
1970. Torino, 1971. white, sound.

Sol LeWitt Interview Flash Art stanley brouwn, Van Abbemu- Stamping in the Studio, 1968.
(1973) in Sol LeWitt: Critical seum, Eindhoven and MACBA, Video, PAL, black and white,
Texts, AEIUO, 1994. Barcelona, 2005. sound.

Carl Andre Cuts: texts 1959- stanley brouwn 1 m, 1 step, Van Walk with Contrapposto, 1968.
2004, James Meyer ed., MIT, Abbemuseum, Eindhoven, 1976. Video, PAL, black-and-white,
2005. sound.
Lawrence Weiner Works, Anatol,
Artists' books Hamburg, 1977. Wall-Floor Positions, 1968. Video,
Sol LeWitt Modular Drawings, PAL, black-and-white, sound.
Salle Simon I. Patino, Centre dArt
Contemporain, Genve, 1976. Manipulating a Fluorescent Tube,
Room A1-07 1969. Video, PAL, black-and-
On Kawara I Got Up (1968- pages 88-89 white, sound.
1979), mfc Michle Didier,
Brussels, 2008. Daniel Buren Pacing Upside Down, 1969.
Angular painting Both extreme Video, PAL, black-and-white,
On Kawara I Met (1968-1979), white stripes are covered with sound.
mfc Michle Didier, Brussels, white paint, 1975. Acrylic on
2004. canvas. Revolving Upside Down, 1969.
Video, PAL, black-and-white,
On Kawara I Went (1968-1979), Ulrich Rckriem sound.
mfc Michle Didier, Brussels, Circles, 1971. Video, PAL, black-
2007. and-white, sound. Bouncing Two Balls Between the
Floor and Ceiling with Chang-
Untitled, Carl Andre, in Xerox Untitled, 1972. Steel. ing Rhythms, 1967-1968. Video
Book, curated and published by projection, 16 mm film transferred
Seth Siegelaub, 1968. Lawrence Weiner to video, PAL, black-and-white,
Declaration of Intent, 1969. sound.
Reprint of poster exhibition Van
Abbemuseum, March 12 April Violin Tuned D.E.A.D., 1969.
26, 1976. Video, PAL, black-and-white,
sound.

IN-BETWEEN MINIMALISMS / LIST OF WORKS | 109


Dance or Exercise on the Perim- Hanne Darboven 1/16 x 1/16 x 1/16 ell, 1994.
eter of a Square (SquareDance), Construction: 21 x 21 - Numbers: Metal.
1967-1968. Video projection, 16 1, 3, 5, 7, (+5) = 21, 1968. Ink
mm film transferred to video, PAL, on paper. 1/4 x 1/4 x 1/4 voet, 1994. Metal.
black-and-white, sound.
Sol LeWitt 1 step, 1 ell, 1 foot on 1 m
Walking in an Exaggerated Untitled (Wall Structure), 1972. 1 ell, 1 foot op 1 step, 1989.
Manner Around the Perimeter Painted aluminium. Aluminium.
of a Square, 1967-1968. Video
projection, 16 mm film transferred Royden Rabinowitch
to video, PAL, black-and-white, Manifold, without year. Steel.
without sound. Room A1-10
stanley brouwn pages 100-101
Black Balls, 1969. Video projec- one step (4x), 1971. Ink, pencil
tion, 16 mm film transferred to on paper. Carl Andre
video, PAL, black-and-white, ALMOLE, 2002. Aluminium.
without sound. 1000 mm, 1974. Ink on paper.
Dan Flavin
Bouncing Balls, 1969. Video one step (11x), 1971. Ink, pencil Untitled (to a man, George
projection, 16 mm film transferred on paper. McGovern), 1972. Fluorescent
to video, PAL, black-and-white, light tubes.
without sound. 4 squares with ancient
measures of length stanley brouwn
Pulling Mouth, 1969. Video buenos aires proposal for an architectural inter-
projection, 16 mm film transferred st petersburg vention, 1986. Pencil on wall.
to video, PAL, black-and-white, bordeaux
no sound. havana
on a sheet of paper 1,50 x
Violin Film # 1 (Playing The Violin 1,50m, 2004. Pencil on paper.
As Fast As I Can), 1967-1968.
Video projection, 16 mm film a 100 m 1 : 500
transferred to video, PAL, black- b 100 m 1 : 1000
and-white, sound. c 100 m 1 : 1500
d 100 m 1 : 2500, 1976. Ink,
pencil on paper.

Room A1-09 a) 1 m 1 : 1 6/19


pages 94-99 b) 1 m 1 : 8 1/3, 1976. Ink,
pencil, offset on paper.
Jo Baer
White Wraparound Triptych (blue, a 34 steps
green, lavender), 1970-1974. Oil b 25 m
on canvas. c 1 distance, 1980. Ink and pencil
on paper.
Ad Dekkers
Relief met middelijnen, 1965. 1/32 x 1/32 x 1/32 foot, 1994.
Synthetic paint, acrylic paint on Metal.
panels.
1/16 x 1/16 x 1/16 foot, 1994.
Robert Ryman Metal.
Untitled (Brussels), 1974. Acrylic
on synthetic material.

110 | FREE SOL LEWITT


COLOPHONE

Editors: Christiane Berndes, SUPERFLEX, Daniel McClean,


Kerstin Niemann
Copy editor: Christina Li
Authors: Christiane Berndes, Charles Esche, Daniel McClean
Production: Kerstin Niemann
Design: Copenhagen Brains
Photography: Peter Cox, Eindhoven (cover, pp.11-31, 70-101),
Bram Saeys, Eindhoven (pp.32-33, 35),
Antoine Derksen, Eindhoven (pp.98-99)
SUPERFLEX (pp.28, 34)
Printed in the EU: Lecturis, Eindhoven
Typeface: Akzidenz-Grotesk

Publisher: Van Abbemuseum


Postbus 235 - 5600 AE Eindhoven
Netherlands
Tel: +31 (0)40 2381000
www.vanabbemuseum.nl

Distribution Europe:
Revolver Publishing
by Vice Versa
Immanuelkirchstr. 12 - D-10405 Berlin
Tel: +49-30-616 092 26 - Fax: +49-30-616 092 38
info@revolver-publishing.com
www.revolver-publishing.com

Distribution North America: Half Letter Press


P.O. Box 12588 - Chicago, IL 60612
www.halfletterpress.com

ISBN 978-3-86895-086-1
No copyright. No license. 2010.
All forms of copying and reproduction are encouraged. Please credit the authors.
Funders:

We would like to extend our gratitude to those who helped to bring this project to life.
We especially thank the artists, the staff of the Van Abbemuseum and its volunteers. Special
thanks to: Peter van Beers, Rene Bondy, Fien Broekstra, the Sol LeWitt Estate, Lynn George,
Peter van Gompel, Rene Heijnen, Jac Hoppenbrouwers, Maarten Knippenberg, Michiel Martens,
Eric van Meer, Candice Monsanto, Jona Mooren, Mitchell Oleana, Jurgen Pessy, Ras Scherjon,
Jan Schoenmakers, Seth Siegelaub and Sascia Vos.
What does it mean for a museum to possess a work of art: what is actu-
ally owned? The Van Abbemuseum has invited the Danish artist collective,
SUPERFLEX to work with the museums collection. They have responded
with the exhibition In-between Minimalisms and a new work, FREE SOL
LEWITT - an installation made specifically for Play Van Abbe, a programme
of exhibitions and projects focussing on the museum of the 21st century.

This publication gives an insight into SUPERFLEXs concept of FREE SOL


LEWITT, discusses some of the key issues arising out of the project and in-
cludes essays by Charles Esche, Christiane Berndes and Daniel McClean.

No copright. No license. 2010.


ISBN 978-3-86895-086-1
114 | FREE SOL LEWITT