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May 2nd, 2012
30 Years After its Conception, Garden Designed by Sol LeWitt is Now Under Way in Philadelphia

City officials and Philadelphia Museum of Art to host May 24 celebration

Garden by major artist features over 7,000 plantings in 4 flower beds and 4 colors.


Philadelphia, PA—On May 24, 2012, the Philadelphia Museum of Art will commemorate the installation of Sol LeWitt’s Lines in Four Directions in Flowers, a garden consisting of rows of flowers in four different colors planted on a long rectangular plot of land in the William M. Reilly Memorial at Fairmount Park, adjacent to the Museum’s Anne d’Harnoncourt Sculpture Garden. A leading figure in the Conceptual Art movement,LeWitt (1928-2007) conceived this installation 30 years ago, yet it has remained unrealized until now. It is the only project of its kind within LeWitt’s acclaimed and remarkably diverse body of work.

On the morning of May 24th at 11:00 a.m., the Museum will host a tribute and reception at the Lines in Four Directions in Flowers site, next to the Museum’s sculpture garden where two of LeWitt’ssculptures, Steps (Philadelphia) and Pyramid (Philadelphia), installed in 2010, are now located. City and Museum officials, civic leaders, and donors to the project will be on hand to celebrate the opening of the garden, which was developed in partnership with Philadelphia Parks & Recreation.

“It is deeply satisfying to realize this design proposed by LeWitt thirty years ago” said Timothy Rub, the George D. Widener and Chief Executive Officer of the Philadelphia Museum of Art.  “He was one of the greatest artists of our time, and this work holds a special—indeed, unique—place within the broad range of media in which he worked. We are grateful to Penny Bach of the Fairmount Park Art Association, who asked LeWitt to undertake this project, for encouraging us to bring it to fruition at long last. We also owe our deepest thanks to The Pew Charitable Trusts for enabling this project to, quite literally, come to life.”

LeWitt designed Lines in Four Directions in Flowers in 1981 when he was invited by the Fairmount Park Art Association to prepare a proposal for a public work at a site in Fairmount Park. He selected the Reilly Memorial. At that time, LeWitt suggested an installation which would consist of flower plantings of “four different colors (white, yellow, red and blue) in four equal rectangular areas, in rows of four directions (vertical, horizontal, diagonal left and right) framed by evergreen hedges of about 2 feet in height. In the winter the rows of plants would retain their linear direction, in the summer the flowers would bloom and provide color. The type of plant, height, distance apart and planting details would be under the direction of a botanist and the maintenance by a gardener.” 

The installation was completed in early April. Lines in Four Directions in Flowers will be on view over the next two years at its intended site. The first of the flowering perennials planted in each section will begin to bloom in May, with other flowers of the same color blooming throughout the summer and early fall.

Landscape architecture and urban design firm OLIN, in consultation with Michael Van Valkenburgh Associates, worked in partnership with the Philadelphia Museum of Art to interpret LeWitt’s drawing and written description of the design and oversee the installation of this work. “It has been a privilege and an honor to participate in the realization of this extraordinary work of art,” notes OLIN partner Susan Weiler. “LeWitt was clearly an intuitive observer of color and nature and knew what effects he wanted to achieve. It has been a welcomed challenge to bring his vision to life.”

With a lot size totaling 18,850 square feet (nearly one-third the size of a football field), each of the four beds within the garden is 4,320 square feet (80’ x 54’). In total, the colored quadrants contain more than 7,000 plants. Each color palette contains four to five plants that will bloom sequentially, with the shortest flowers blooming first, creating a variation in height and texture within each line in LeWitt’s design. The flowers planted within each area are as follows (by common plant names):

  • White: Bellflower, Guara, Obedient Plant, White Coneflower, Phlox ‘David’
  • Yellow: False Indigo, Perennial Sunflower, Yellow Coneflower, Yarrow
  • Red: Red Yarrow, Blanket Flower, Red Sage, Cardinal Flower, Red Avens
  • Blue: Great Blue Lobelia, Russian Sage, Sea Holly, False Indigo, Woodland Sage
  • Boxwood hedge border: Green Mountain Boxwood

Groundswell Design Group, LLC, a landscape architect design and build firm located in Hopewell, NJ, planted the flowers, which were grown at The Perennial Farm in Glen Arm, MD. Groundswell will maintain the garden throughout the next two years.

In order to achieve the effect LeWitt intended and ensure that the garden would be in bloom throughout the spring, summer and early fall, OLIN studied LeWitt’s 1969 Sentences on Conceptual Art and took into consideration the artist’s writings. To determine the sequence of plants’ positioning within each colored area, taking into account the bloom period of the individual flowers, OLIN utilized an algorithmic computer program. According to OLIN, applying the formal rules of an algorithm to this work seemed completely in line with LeWitt’s notion of Conceptual art.

“We are honored and grateful to the Philadelphia Museum of Art, Timothy Rub, Alice Beamesderfer, Carlos Basualdo, and The Pew Charitable Trusts for realizing Sol's unique plan for an urban landscape,” says Carol LeWitt, the artist’s widow.

“Lines in Four Directions in Flowers is resonant both with the research that characterizes Sol LeWitt’s work and with the context for which the work was created. It is in equal measure rigorous and beautiful, a homage to the city of Philadelphia and to its history,” says Carlos Basualdo, the Keith L. and Katherine Sachs Curator of Contemporary Art. 

In Philadelphia, LeWitt is best known for the blue barrel-vaulted ceiling of geometric patterns in the Museum’s modern and contemporary galleries entitled On a Blue Ceiling, Eight Geometric Figures: Circle, Trapezoid, Parallelogram, Rectangle, Square, Triangle, Right Triangle, X (Wall Drawing No. 351), which has been on view in the Museum since 1981. As with his instructions for the proposed garden, LeWitt left the execution of the ceiling to the hands of others. Additional works by LeWitt in the Museum’s collection include Location of a Circle (1973) and Splotch (2003).

The installation of Sol LeWitt’s Lines in Four Directions in Flowers is made possible by a generous grant from The Pew Charitable Trusts.

About Sol LeWitt
Sol LeWitt was born in Hartford, Connecticut in 1928 and received his BFA from Syracuse University in 1949. Following his service in the Korean War for the United States Army, LeWitt moved to New York in 1953. In New York, LeWitt held a series of jobs that would later influence the direction of his artistic practice including a position as a draftsman for architect I.M. Pei and a role as a receptionist at the Museum of Modern Art, until ultimately he decided to pursue art as a profession. The artist died in August of 2007 in New York City.

A pioneer of the 1960s Conceptual Art movement, LeWitt sought to emphasize the importance of ideas over the material aspects of a work of art. In his practice, he uses basic geometric forms to devise aesthetic systems that reflect a sophisticated engagement with a world beyond the perceptual.

Known initially for his geometric sculptures that use open, modular structures originating from the cube, LeWitt began devising wall drawings in 1968, for which the owner of each piece received only a set of instructions. LeWitt’s drawings break down the notion of a singular, irreplaceable art object as they are transferable and yet never the same, adjusting to fit new architectural spaces with every creation. Allowing for a collaborative and participatory network of ideas, LeWitt’s work activates both the physical domain of the art itself as well as the ideological arena of human thinking and interpretation. Free from the artist’s literal(?) hand, his methodology is often likened to that of a composer whose precise instructions are vulnerable to interpretation with each performance.

In the 1980s, LeWitt began working with cinder blocks and in the 1990s he continued to reinvent new possibilities for his work as random curvilinear shapes and highly saturated colors became present in his structures.

Major retrospectives of LeWitt’s career have been held at the Museum of Modern Art, New York (1978), the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art (2000), the Museum of Contemporary Art, Chicago (2000), and the Whitney Museum of American Art, New York (2001). LeWitt’s work is also included in many museum collections including that of the Philadelphia Museum of Art.

The Philadelphia Museum of Art is among the largest museums in the United States, with a collection of more than 227,000 works of art and more than 200 galleries presenting painting, sculpture, works on paper, photography, decorative arts, textiles, and architectural settings from Asia, Europe, Latin America, and the United States. Its facilities include its landmark Main Building on the Benjamin Franklin Parkway, the Perelman Building, located nearby on Pennsylvania Avenue, the Rodin Museum on the 2200 block of the Benjamin Franklin Parkway, and two 18th-century houses in Fairmount Park, Mount Pleasant and Cedar Grove. The Museum offers a wide variety of activities for public audiences, including special exhibitions, programs for children and families, lectures, concerts and films.

For additional information, contact the Communications Department of the Philadelphia Museum of Art phone at 215-684-7860, by fax at 215-235-0050, or by e-mail at pressroom@philamuseum.org. The Philadelphia Museum of Art is located on the Benjamin Franklin Parkway at 26th Street. For general information, call (215) 763-8100.

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