47 Three-Part Variations on 3 Different Kinds of Cubes

Artist: Sol LeWitt
installation | Enamel on steel | 600x200x200mm | 1968

Sol LeWitt's 49 Three-Part Variations on Three Different Kinds of Cubes is the three-dimensional realization of a predetermined concept. The total number of variations and the arrangement of cubes in each unit were governed not by intuitive aesthetic decisions, but by mathematical logic. "In conceptual art, the idea or concept is the most important aspect of the work."1 LeWitt made this statement in his "Paragraphs on Conceptual Art," which appeared in Artforum in 1967, the same year that he made the first version of the Three-Part Variations on Three Different Kinds of Cubes. According to LeWitt, the ideas underlying conceptual art "need not be complex," and for multiple modular works he advocated using a simple form: "The form itself is of very limited importance; it becomes the grammar for the total work. In fact, it is best that the basic unit be deliberately uninteresting so that it may more easily become an intrinsic part of the entire work."2 For the Three-Part Variations on Three Different Kinds of Cubes, the basic vocabulary consists of the three types of cubes: solid cube, cube with opposite sides removed, and cube with one side removed. The variations represent all possible different three-part combinations of the types of cubes, vertical arrangements, and orientations. The solid cube is unchanged by its orientation, the cube with opposite sides removed appears in two orientations, with either front and back, or left and right sides removed, and the cube with one side removed appears in four different orientations, with left, right, front or back removed. Thus, the solid cube appears the least often, while the cube with one side removed appears the most. Many variations are based on combinations of cubes oriented in different directions, but if an entire stack is rotated or inverted no new combination is created.3 The stacks are placed in eight rows with between six and eight stacks in each row. Within many of the rows, cubes of a particular kind predominate, thus emphasizing the variations possible with that type of cube. The Three-Part Variations on Three Different Kinds of Cubes has appeared in a number of different forms: drawings presented on single sheets of paper, drawings reproduced in book form, and three-dimensional works made to different scales. None of these manifestations can be understood as the work itself; rather, each is a different physical realization of the same underlying idea. According to LeWitt, "The idea itself, even if not made visual, is as much a work of art as any finished product," and when a work is made in three dimensions, the material in which the work is realized should not draw attention to itself, so as to "engage the mind of the viewer rather than his eye or emotions."4 Although certain of LeWitt's structures resemble Minimalist sculpture in that they are fabricated using industrial techniques and materials, the underlying idea is different than the serial repetition of "one thing after another" advocated by Donald Judd as a way of escaping traditional sculptural composition.5 The catalogue for Sol LeWitt's 1978 exhibition at the Museum of Modern Art refers to two sculptural versions of the work: 47 Three-Part Variations on Three Different Kinds of Cubes (1967; exhibited at the Dwan gallery in 1968), which was fabricated in aluminum and then subsequently destroyed; and All Three-Part Variations on Three Different Kinds of Cubes(1969), with fifty-six units, fabricated in steel in 1974.6 The Oberlin 49 Three-Part Variations on Three Different Kinds of Cubes falls between these two versions. The arrangement of the eight rows follows the order and structure of LeWitt's book, 49 Three-Part Variations Using Three Different Kinds of Cubes, 1967-68.7 The scale of the Oberlin version is smaller than either of the other three-dimensional works. Furthermore, the individual units in the Oberlin work are free-standing, whereas the other versions presented each row on a single base. LeWitt has stated that "Each row is autonomous and can function independently of the entire piece while still implying the other rows," and the final version of the work, All Three-Part Variations on Three Different Kinds of Cubes, has in fact been dispersed, with each row sold separately.8 In the Oberlin version, the forty-nine variations known at the time the work was conceived are displayed together. M. Buskirk


Documenta 4 | 1968.06.27 - 1968.10.06 | Galerie an der Schönen Aussicht(Kassel, Germany) | Karlsaue park(Kassel, Germany) | Museum Fridericianum(Kassel, Germany) | Orangerie(Kassel, Germany)