Sol LeWitt in the Garden

Artworks - 15/01/2015 - Article : Mathilde Simian

Those who are familiar with American conceptual artist Sol LeWitt (1928-2007) and his murals and sculptures (which he prefers to call “structures”), composed of rigorous series and combinations of geometrical elements, will be somewhat surprised by the artwork installed in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, in 2012 – it is, indeed, unique in the artist’s work.

Conceived by LeWitt in 1981 upon invitation from the Fairmount Park Art Association (now the Association for Public Art), Lines in Four Directions in Flowers was finally installed thirty years later by the Philadelphia Museum of Art (PMA), where the artist initially intended to have it installed, close to the sculpture garden of the museum.

Although the very precise geometric structure of the artwork is representative of LeWitt’s work, it is the material he chose that might surprise: plants, and all they hold of unexpected and incontrollable.

This installation, which stretches out on a 17,000 sq. ft. plot, is composed of four rectangular areas of equal size but of different colors and patterns formed by more than 7,000 flower and perennial plantings. To describe his project, LeWitt gave the following instructions:

“To plant flowers of four different colors (white, yellow, red and blue) in four equal rectangular areas, in rows of four directions (vertical, horizontal, and diagonal left and right) framed by evergreen hedges of about two feet in height. In the winter the rows of plants would retain their linear direction; in the summer the flowers would bloom and the 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 interpretation and the execution of these fairly minimal instructions and of the drawing which came with them were passed on to the American landscaping company OLIN, expert at projects involving both art and nature – OLIN has conceived the sculpture gardens of none other than the Getty Center in Los Angeles, the National Gallery of Arts in Washington D.C. or the PMA in Philadelphia.

In order to remain as close as possible to LeWitt’s intentions, landscapers and the PMA team have chosen to use a computer algorithm allowing them to select and arrange the flowers according to their color, their size and their blooming season. Here is how they explain their choice:

« Applying the formal rules of an algorithm to this work seemed completely in line with LeWitt’s notion of conceptual art and affinity for creating variation within a rigid structure. »

A list of the selected plants, a reproduction of LeWitt’s drawing for the project, and pictures of its realization are available on the PMA website.

Initially installed for a period of two years, this artwork at the crossroads between jardin à la française and minimalist art will still be on display this season. Let’s enjoy it while it lasts.


Sol LeWitt
Lines in Four Directions in Flowers
Flower plantings, evergreen hedges, gravel paths
Commissioned by the Fairmount Park Art Association in 1981
Realized by the Philadelphia Museum of Art in 2012 in cooperation with Philadelphia Parks & Recreation.
Execution : OLIN
Planting and maintenance: Groundswell Design Group, LCC

Address :
William M. Reilly Memorial, Fairmount Park, adjacent to the Anne d’Harnoncourt Sculpture Garden.
Philadelphia Museum of Art
2600 Benjamin Franklin Parkway
Philadelphia, PA 19130

Horticulture references :

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