Danish Artist Collective: SUPERFLEX Invited to Work With The Van Abbemuseum Collection

What is the artwork? An idea or an object? How are art works to be shared and valued in today’s society?

The Van Abbemuseum has invited the Danish artist collective, SUPERFLEX to work with the museum’s collection. They have responded with the exhibition In-between Minimalisms and a new work, FREE SOL LEWITT – an installation made specially for the second part of Play Van Abbe.

The museum is sometimes described as a prison in which the artwork is ‘locked-away’ like a criminal. With FREE SOL LEWITT, the artists playfully ask the Van Abbemuseum to ‘set free’ the work of the American artist, Sol LeWitt, Untitled (Wall Structure), 1972. SUPERFLEX has set-up a metal workshop inside the museum in which exact replicas of the specific artwork by LeWitt are made and then shared amongst the museum’s public, free of charge. The copies will be distributed to the public through a random system which visitors to the museum can sign-up for.

The museum has the duty to collect and document cultural property and to make this accessible to stimulate critical reflection, so that fresh perspectives may be presented and new developments in the cultural and social fields made possible. Yet, copyright laws can potentially prevent the museum from being able to fulfil its task. What should the museum’s position be in the current information age where the capacity to share and exchange information is restricted by the economic interests protected by copyright?

FREE SOL LEWITT will be put into context by SUPERFLEX in the exhibition In between Minimalisms. This exhibition will consist of artworks from the periods of Minimalist and Conceptual art found in the Van Abbemuseum’s collection. Issues such as mass production, intellectual property, seriality and the artwork as concept are raised. FREE SOL LEWITT will be accompanied by a seminar and a special publication.

“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.” Sol LeWitt, inFlash Art, 1973.

SUPERFLEX considers FREE SOL LEWITT to be a homage toLeWitt and his ideas and describes his work as being like a photocopier. FREE SOL LEWITT contains instructions and resources with which the museum can replicate this specific work Untitled (Wall Structure), 1972 by Sol LeWitt from its collection and then give free copies to its visitors.

Art as a concept
SUPERFLEX chose this artwork by LeWitt as he is regarded as one of the founding fathers of Conceptual art, an art form which considered the idea to be more important than the physical manifestation of the art work as an object. In this instance, the original artwork, Untitled (Wall Structure) was industrially manufactured by others (and not by the artist) and so carries within it the idea of
reproduction. The work by LeWitt is concerned more with the idea, or concept than with the work’s execution. As LeWitt said: “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 executor is a perfunctory affair. The idea is a machine that makes the art” (from Paragraphs on Conceptual Art, 1967).

The copy machine
In the FREE SOL LEWITT workshop a couple of workmen work daily on reproducing LeWitt’s Untitled (Wall Structure). LeWitt commissioned a company to produce the work in 1972. Now in 2010, LeWitt’s work is being reproduced in a museum room, where four tables have been set-up. Here, workmen cut the aluminium, weld it into a lattice structure, sand this form and then paint it white. The copies lie stacked in a corner awaiting their new destinations. The installation makes the production, presentation and distribution of an art work simultaneously visible.

Artistic freedom
SUPERFLEX raise the issues of the functioning and obligations of the museum as the owner of a public collection in a modern democratic society. What are the obstacles the museum encounters along the way? What are the tensions that arise between the exponential increase and public demand for free access and exchange of information (i.e. the Internet) on the one hand and copyright; which can restrict this exchange, on the other? Like the current social debate about the illegal copying of images, music, film and digital media with this project, SUPERFLEX also raise issues concerning authorship, copyright and the ownership of culture that resonate throughout society. When a museum commits itself to artistic freedom in a public space, then it has to raise the issue of the rules and regulations that restrict this freedom.

Van Abbemuseum
Bilderdijklaan 10
Eindhoven, The Netherlands


Top Image: Sol LeWitt, Untitled (Wall Structure), 1972. Photo: Peter Cox.

Lower Image: FREE SOL LEWITT, 2010. Installation view Van Abbemuseum. Photo: Peter Cox