The LeWitt Project
Excerpt from The Studio as a Space of Communion: Irene Barberis and Sol LeWitt
Essay by Janet Passehl, curator LeWitt Collection, Chester, USA, 2021
For twelve years after his death in 2007, Sol LeWitt’s Chester, Connecticut studio sat empty of art activity. Its interior remained much the same as he had left it, but without the animating spirit. Apart from occasional tours for arts groups and fund-raisers, the six-hundred square foot space designed by LeWitt in 1990, with its wall of gridded windows, paint jars still half-full, gouache-dripped wall, and bulletin board covered with missives from his many friends worldwide, remained in limbo. No one was quite sure what should happen next.
Enter Australian artist Irene Barberis. Through discussions with the LeWitt Collection’s Curator, Barberis established the idea of doing a series of residencies at each of LeWitt’s studios—in Chester, Spoleto and Praiano—as well as the LeWitt Collection, the facility where LeWitt’s extensive collection of his and other artists’ work is housed. Barberis’ primary interest was in exploring the history of her thirty-year friendship with LeWitt and tracing the confluences between her practice and his. Beyond that she had no plan but “to be completely free in all the spaces” and let the experience unfold. Her proposal was enthusiastically embraced by LeWitt’s widow Carol and her partner Bruce Josephy. Thus, Barberis became the first, and to date the only, visiting artist to work in the Chester studio for an extended period of time.
… Barberis was a twenty-one-year-old art student, LeWitt forty-six and well-established, when the two first met in 1974, at the opening of Eight Contemporary Artists at the Museum of Modern Art in New York. Barberis’ partner at the time, Robert Hunter, was included in the show, and the couple travelled together from Melbourne to New York, staying for three months in Carl Andre’s Westbeth studio. Barberis, who knew of LeWitt but had never seen him, recalls being approached by an older man as she sat on a windowsill in the gallery at MOMA, “watching the glitterati”. He joined her and they had a down-to-earth “not art-worldy” conversation that helped her feel like part of the scene. She and Hunter met LeWitt again a few times in New York on that trip, at openings and dinner parties. They visited his Hester Street studio on two occasions, once during a visit with MoMA curator Jennifer Licht. During that visit, Barberis saw a paper with a circular coffee stain, and realized that "everything in the studio was seen, noticed [by LeWitt]". Decades later she would bring this notion with her to the Chester studio, intent on seeing, taking note of, everything in the space and its surroundings. …
Curator, LeWitt Collection
Artwork: Irene Barberis. Sol LeWitt Studio, 2019. Photograph: J. Dole