Art and Science | Sol LeWitt

Sol LeWitt

Bars of Color within Squares (MIT), 2007


5,500 square feet

Commissioned with MIT Percent-for-Art Funds

Since 1968, MIT’s Percent-for-Art Program has allocated funds to commission site-specific art along with each new major construction or renovation project on campus. This tour highlights select Percent-for-Art pieces whose designs reflect their unique location within a hub of science and innovation.

This tour was created by Isabelle Yen, Class of 2021 in Computer Science and Economics. Yen was a List Center Student Guide for three years of her undergraduate career.

For the best view of Bars of Color within Squares, take the elevator at the back of the atrium up to the third floor. What patterns emerge as you look down from the balcony? Compare your view from above to how the work appeared as you walked directly on it.

At first glance, it may look like a floor found in a school or children’s museum. The design reflects Sol LeWitt’s innovative approach as a pioneer of conceptual art, which emphasizes the generation of ideas over the aesthetic results. Many of his works consist of only instructions—for example, “A square is divided horizontally and vertically into four equal parts, each with lines in four directions superimposed progressively” (Wall Drawing 56)—intended to be carried out by anyone.

In Bars of Color within Squares, a simple algorithm is used to assign colors to shapes and ensure that each square contains all six primary and secondary colors (four within the square, and two in the frame). In line with LeWitt’s belief that all mediums are of equal value, the material used is terrazzo, usually made from stone chips mixed into concrete and often used in public buildings because of its durability and affordability. For this piece, recycled glass was mixed with colored epoxy resins and poured by skilled craftsmen to achieve the desired colors and luminosity.

Building Number: 6C

Accession Number: PFA.2007.001

Audio Transcript

Sol Lewitt, a founder of conceptual art, believed the concept behind a work of art was more important than its execution. He may be most famous for his geometric wall drawings, in which he devised a set of instructions that he or a draftsperson could execute. He created this work, "Bars of Color within Squares MIT," using the same principles. Curator Andrea Miller-Keller, who knew Lewitt, explains.

Sol loved taking one set of ideas and playing them out in a variety of mediums. What we see in the floor of The Green Center goes back to some wall drawings that he did between 2002 and 2004, which were really based on very similar ideas. It was a kind of experiment. Let's see what happens when we do this.

Covering the entire 5,500 square feet floor, Lewitt's work was commissioned through the MIT Percent-for-Art for the Physics, Department of Materials Science and Engineering, and Spectroscopy Lab, Infrastructure project. The floor consists of 15 brightly colored square patterns made from terrazzo, an aggregate of recycled glass and epoxy resin.

Its patterns create a dynamic optical experience, changing from day to day, even minute to minute, depending on the shifting light. That the work is so visually stunning was not something Lewitt planned for nor considered important.

The arrangements that you see, the four colors on the inside and the two chosen for the outside, those are fairly random. He was definitely not trying to make interesting combinations or to make surprises for you. But just by following the rules that he set for himself, he uses rigidly throughout the piece, you get many, many unexpected delights. I think of this piece as MIT's Secret Garden.

Lewitt died in 2007 before the project was finished. True to his principles, he simply left behind instructions for its completion. To view the work from the upstairs gallery, please proceed to the back of the atrium, and take the elevator to the third floor. To learn more about Lewitt's other work at MIT, please press 923, then the pound key.