Ever since I saw sign spinners advertising model homes in Southern California, I've been interested in how one might see them as performers and not just as hired advertisers. Good spinners are at the intersection between athletics and dance (regional and national sign spinning competitions judge the range of spinners' skills), but despite the inherent improvisation found in spinning, their performances typically fall outside the realm of art. By giving them signs with excerpts from Sol Lewitt's Sentences on Conceptual Art, the spinners are no longer selling a product such as tax preparation, a liquidation sale, check cashing, real estate, or a vape shop. Rather, they're participating in a performance, framed both by the Lewitt's repositioning of art and the spinner's own agility all the while retaining some of the residue of the original context.
Sol Lewitt's Sentences on Conceptual Art are curious to me since they are a touchstone for much of my thinking on art and some of its more democratic impulses. A 2003 interview between Saul Ostrew and Sol Lewitt in Bomb captures that in the following exchange:
Ostrew: Do you see the notion of a democratic art being a significant aspect of the development of both Minimalism and Conceptual art?
Lewitt: That was one aspect of it. It was a way of questioning the general perception of art as inaccessible. Just as the development of earth art and installation art stemmed from the idea of taking art out of the galleries, the basis of my involvement with public art is a continuation of wall drawings. As soon as one does work on walls, the idea of using the whole wall follows. It means that the art is intimately involved with the architecture. It is available to be seen by everyone. It avoids the preciousness of gallery or museum installations. Also, since art is a vehicle for the transmission of ideas through form, the reproduction of the form only reinforces the concept. It is the idea that is being reproduced. Anyone who understands the work of art owns it. We all own the Mona Lisa.
Lewitt's instruction-based projects, however, are produced for museums, galleries and collectors. Though democratic in their appropriation of space and implied execution, the works themselves still reside in mostly rarified spaces. In fact, in order to have a Sol Lewitt wall drawing, the estate requires that the museum or collector hire approved agents to execute the drawing. The infinite reproducibility and individual idiosyncrasy inherent in Lewitt's instruction-based work is compromised by the tight control the estate levies on those works. In contrast, sign spinning, the median strip, street corner, and busy intersection are the antithesis of those sorts of spaces and that level of control.