Sol LeWitt, "A Square of Chicago Without a Trapezoid" (1979), altered photograph

Grids, formal studies, geometric shapes, and patterns fill the walls of San Francisco’s Fraenkel Gallery in this unique show of photography by seminal minimalist and conceptual artist Sol Lewitt (1928-2007), who is much better known for his sculpture and drawing. This is the first gallery exhibition to focus only on Lewitt’s photographs; the show, titled “Photographic Works, 1968-2004” and on up through April 30, 2011, spans the greater part of the artist’s career.

Some of the images directly transfer from Lewitt’s better known work. For instance, Buried Cube Containing an Object of Importance But Little Value (1968; it’s the oldest work in the show) is documentation of a conceptual work; the process of the action is presented in a sequential grid. The evidence of the artwork is now the artwork itself.

Wall signage also informs us that Lewitt was influenced by motion sequence photographer Eadweard Muybridge (incidentally, there is a large Muybridge retrospective currently up at nearby SFMOMA). We can readily see Lewitt’s interest in sequencing via A sphere lit from the top, all sides, and all their combinations (2004), a study comprising 28 images, arranged in a grid, of a sphere lit from various specific angles. Note too, the work is created by following instructions left by the artist, the same concept Lewitt applied to wall drawings.

Perhaps most informative of how the outside world influenced Lewitt’s work is Grids of Grids (1976), in which images of similar everyday objects – wooden doors, grates, skylights – are arranged grid-like, three up and eight across. Is this how the artist processed what he saw? Is this our opportunity to see things through his eyes? Or perhaps this is the artist studying and seeing repetition, which he then breaks down to its most elemental forms and lines in his paintings, drawings, and sculpture (or “structures” as he fittingly called his three-dimensional work). Here we get some insight into a formal process and vision, and get to look at some elegant, rigorous, contemplative imagery as well.