American Conceptual Artist and Painter
New York, New York
Summary of Sol LeWitt
Sol LeWitt earned a place in the history of art for his leading role in the Conceptual movement. His belief in the artist as a generator of ideas was instrumental in the transition from the modern to the postmodern era. Conceptual art, expounded by LeWitt as an intellectual, pragmatic act, added a new dimension to the artist's role that was distinctly separate from the romantic nature of Abstract Expressionism. LeWitt believed the idea itself could be the work of art, and maintained that, like an architect who creates a blueprint for a building and then turns the project over to a construction crew, an artist should be able to conceive of a work and then either delegate its actual production to others or perhaps even never make it at all. LeWitt's work ranged from sculpture, painting, and drawing to almost exclusively conceptual pieces that existed only as ideas or elements of the artistic process itself.
- LeWitt's refined vocabulary of visual art consisted of lines, basic colors and simplified shapes. He applied them according to formulae of his own invention, which hinted at mathematical equations and architectural specifications, but were neither predictable nor necessarily logical. For LeWitt, the directions for producing a work of art became the work itself; a work was no longer required to have an actual material presence in order to be considered art.
- LeWitt's conceptual pieces often did take on at least basic material form, although not necessarily at his own hands. In the spirit of the medieval workshop in which the master conceives of a work and apprentices carry out his instructions based on preliminary drawings, LeWitt would provide an assistant or a group of assistants with directions for producing a work of art. Instructions for these works, whether large-scale wall drawings or outdoor sculptures, were deliberately vague so that the end result was not completely controlled by the artist that conceived the work. In this way, LeWitt challenged some very fundamental beliefs about art, including the authority of the artist in the production of a work. His emphasis is most often on process and materials (or the lack thereof in the case of the latter) rather than on imbuing a work with a specific message or narrative. Art, for LeWitt, could exist for its own sake. Meaning was not a requirement.
- Whereas many Minimalist artists turned to industrial materials, LeWitt simplified even further, still employing traditional materials - wood, canvas, paint, for instance - but focusing instead on concepts and systems. While the use of industrial materials implied a certain expectation of permanence with regard to a work of art, in direct contrast, LeWitt appreciated the ephemeral character and impermanence of Conceptual art. In short, he let the traditional materials speak for themselves, to demonstrate their own vulnerability to decay, destruction, or obsolescence.
Biography of Sol LeWitt
Solomon "Sol" LeWitt was the only child of Russian Jewish parents. His family lived in Hartford, Connecticut until his father, a doctor, died when Sol was six years old. Thereafter, LeWitt and his mother, a nurse, lived with his aunt in New Britain, Connecticut.
Important Art by Sol LeWitt
LeWitt used traditional materials-oil and pigment on wood-when he produced Wall Structure Blue. The format, a colorful square within the framework of a larger square, imitates traditional painting with the red bulls-eye in the center calling attention to an imagined narrative and to the symmetry imposed by convention. The simple, yet striking square set in the middle of the canvas is reminiscent of Jasper Johns' handling of the target pieces, which LeWitt had seen at an exhibition at MoMA around the time he produced Wall Structure Blue. This Minimalist painting marks a definitive break with LeWitt's earlier body of work, which still made use of language and form-from the human figure to simplified, abstract objects.
Derived from the spare, iconic forms that began with such paintings as Wall Structure Blue, this work stands as their most elemental component. Although the shape is abstract, the relatable, human-like proportions (it stands 96 inches high) recall a skeleton, with all of its solemn dignity and shock value. As one of the first open structures, Standing Open Structure Black can be seen as the standard building block for much of LeWitt's later work. As with his Minimalist painting, LeWitt's simplified sculptures of this period challenge the notion of completeness and suggest that any additions to the basic elements of a work of art are excessive.
This accumulation of open structures signifies a revival of seriality in LeWitt's work, inspired by the serial photographs of Eadweard Muybridge, whose work LeWitt discovered in an abandoned book a previous tenant had left in his apartment. The network of cubes allowed LeWitt to study the juxtaposition of different sizes and shapes, arranged according to certain preset rules and ideas. Looking at Serial Project #1 as a whole, it appears to be nothing so much as a city, revealing LeWitt's architectural roots. It also imposes itself as a kind of framework for a finished work or series of works, imitating the preparatory sketches that precede blueprints and completed structures. Once again, LeWitt challenges the conventional methods of artistic production; in this instance, he halts the additive process of sculpting and allows the viewer to observe what would only have existed beneath other materials.
Influences and Connections
Useful Resources on Sol LeWitt
- Sol LeWitt: Wall DrawingsBy Sol Lewitt
- Sol Lewitt: 100 ViewsOur PickBy Susan Cross, Denise Markonish
- Sol LeWitt: Structures, 1965-2006Our PickBy Nicholas Baume
- Sol LeWitt: Incomplete Open CubesBy Nicholas Baume
- Sol LeWitt: The Mystic ConceptualistBy Michael Spens / Studio International / April 19, 2007
- Sol LeWitt, a Master of the Art of the IdeaBy Paul Richard / The Washington Post / April 10, 2007
- Conceptualism, by the Gallon, Covers the WallsBy Michael Kimmelman / The New York Times / December 8, 2000
- Sentences on Conceptual ArtOur PickBy Sol LeWitt / Art-Language (reprinted on ubuweb) / 1969
- Paragraphs on Conceptual ArtOur PickBy Sol LeWitt / Originally published in Artforum, 1967