Conceptual-art Kippah: The Sol LeWitt Yarmulke
“The idea becomes a machine that makes the art,” Sol LeWitt wrote in “Paragraphs on Conceptual Art,” the genre-defining manifesto he published in Artforum in 1967.
In practice, the machine wasn’t always up to the task. That was the case when Beth Shalom Rodfe Zedek, the Connecticut synagogue that LeWitt co-designed with architect Stephen Lloyd in 2001, tried repeatedly to translate the radiant, geometric design the artist made for the ark doors into the convex form of a yarmulke. It was only last year that a Boro Park firm, A1 skullcap, finally did the trick, using sophisticated digital printing technology to render LeWitt’s pulsating Star of David on a four-panel leather kippah. The synagogue ordered 100, offering them for $36 in a 10th-anniversary fundraising initiative…
At the Jewish Museum’s design shop, which started selling the yarmulkes last fall, shoppers have been snapping up the elegant limited edition by the famed conceptual master. Stunning, symbolic, and one-size-fits-all (men, at least), the LeWitt Yarmulke is a wearable work of art, a bargain, and a mitzvah.
LeWitt, who died at 78 in 2007, never saw the yarmulke. But the circumstances of its creation, and its accessible price, are entirely in keeping with the sensibility of the artist, a child of Russian immigrants who was a pivotal figure in the post-Ab-Ex avant-garde. As he explained in his Artforum piece—summoning, in his haimische way, baseball and miniskirts to make his case—the artist was fixated on concept, rather than execution. His “multiple modular method” involved a basic vocabulary of forms, whose iterations he dictated to future fabricators via precise sets of written instructions. This scenario, “usually free from the dependence on the skill of the artist as a craftsman,” as LeWitt put it, might seem commonplace in this era of Damien Hirst spot paintings, but it was pretty radical at the time….
Read more in my new article in Tablet.