Sol LeWitt and the Gift Economy

I love this idea of trading prints. A bit of good advice I got on a visit to New Orleans by A Gallery for Fine Photography’s Josh Mann Pailet  (a most charming man and incredible resource, I send everyone I know going to New Orleans Josh’s way) was to trade prints with your fellow artists.  Thus I love this call for entries by Mass MoCA in the spirit of Sol LeWitt who traded prints with everybody and anyone regardless if they were as well known as he was.  It’s good karma, and there is no reason for all that stuff to sit in your flat files, especially of those of you who have open editions and editions of 200.

| MASS MoCA / Cabinet | An Exchange with Sol Lewitt | SEP 15  Deadline: September 15th- October 15th

A two-part exhibition curated by Regine Basha

The story of Sol LeWitt’s exchanges with other artists is by now widely known. Though most artists engage in this process at one point or another, LeWitt seemed fully committed to it as an artistic code of conduct, a way of life. Eva Hesse, Robert Mangold, Hanna Darboven, and Robert Ryman are just a few of LeWitt’s celebrated contemporaries with whom the artist exchanged works. Such exchanges were not limited to well-known artists, however: LeWitt consistently traded works with admirers whom he did not know but who had nevertheless sent their work to him, as well as amateur artists with whom he interacted in his daily life. LeWitt’s exchanges—he responded to every work he received by sending back one of his own—fostered an ongoing form of artistic communion and, in some cases, a source of support and patronage.

The Sol LeWitt Private Collection retains all of the works he received, as well as a record of what he offered in return. For LeWitt, the act of exchange seemed to be not only a personal gesture, but also an integral part of his conceptual practice. In addition to encouraging the circulation of artworks through a gift economy that challenged the art world’s dominant economic model, LeWitt’s exchanges with strangers have the same qualities of generosity, and risk, that characterized his work in general. This kind of exchange was designed to stage an encounter between two minds, outside the familiar confines of friendship. If we consider the process of exchange as another of Sol LeWitt’s instructional pieces, then the rational (or irrational) thing to do is to continue to exchange work and ideas, if only symbolically, with him.

—This is a call to those who share an affinity with Sol LeWitt’s legacy as a conceptual artist, to those who knew him and those who did not—to anyone who has ever wondered, “What would Sol LeWitt like?” —Guidelines Your gift to Sol LeWitt can take the form of an image, an object, a piece of music, or a film. Books, ephemera, and other non-perishable items (e.g. wine) are also welcome. Other ideas may be discussed with the curator. 2D contributions should be no larger than 8.5 x 11 inches; 3D contributions should be no larger than 12 x 12 x 12 inches. All contributions will be exhibited at either Cabinet or MASS MoCA. The curator will notify you of the location of your contribution by 1 December 2010. Contributions can be dropped off, mailed, emailed, or faxed between September 15th and October 15th: An Exchange with Sol LeWitt c/o Cabinet 300 Nevins Street Brooklyn NY 11217, USA Fax: + 1 718 222-3700


A publication documenting the contributions will accompany the shows and will be presented at the conclusion of the project to all participants. Please note that we cannot return your contribution. You can, however, pick it up at the end of the exhibition if prior arrangements have been made.

For further information, please contact Regine Basha at MASS MoCA 22 January – 31 March 2011 87 Marshall Street North Adams, MA 01247 Cabinet 20 January – 19 February 2011 300 Nevins Street Brooklyn, NY 11217


One thought on “Sol LeWitt and the Gift Economy

  1. I think it’s sort of funny that the concept of trading prints among artists has been turned into what it is supposed to subvert: a big gallery show.

    I have long been a fan of print trades. I have an open offer to swap with any and all photographers who request a trade, and I’ve attempted to organize trading circles (,

    Unfortunately my general experience is that most artists (even photographers, for whom multiple copies are easy) are reluctant to trade, for whatever reason. I think part of it is cultural training. Artists are taught to hold out for sales, and galleries push the mentality trading or giving away art undercuts sales. And there is also the perceived hierarchy of art. Some artists just won’t trade with others less established. Anyway, I agree it’s silly that all of us artists are sitting on piles of unsold works while we complain about unaffordable art. Go trade something! Sol Lewitt didn’t have any special insight. The only thing remarkable is that he kept with the program after gaining fame. But what he did is what all of us should be doing every day.


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