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Sol LeWitt Artworks

American Conceptual Artist and Painter

Sol LeWitt Photo
Movements and Styles: Conceptual Art, Postmodernism

Born: September 9, 1928 - Hartford, Connecticut

Died: April 8, 2007 - New York, New York

Artworks by Sol LeWitt

The below artworks are the most important by Sol LeWitt - that both overview the major creative periods, and highlight the greatest achievements by the artist.

Wall Structure Blue (1962)

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.

Standing Open Structure Black (1964)

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.

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Serial Project #1 (ABCD) (1966)

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.

Buried Cube Containing an Object of Importance but Little Value (1968)

The burial of the cube reportedly took place in a local garden, but these photographs, referring again to the notion of the series or process, are the only proof that LeWitt's actions actually took place. Without seeing the event taking place, or knowing what is held within the cube, Buried Cube relies on the idea, as opposed to a finished object. A conceptual piece, this work was produced shortly following the publication of LeWitt's 1968 manifesto describing the new Conceptual art movement. In the manifesto, he declares, "The execution is a perfunctory affair. The idea becomes a machine that makes the art." Likewise, by emptying this "burial"-like an actual interment, an extremely important, emotional, and personal affair-of content, value, gesture and expression, LeWitt disengages himself from the work and takes a strong "death of the author" stance. In his own words: "Once it is out of his hand the artist has no control over the way a viewer will perceive the work. Different people will understand the same thing in a different way."

Wall Drawing #16 (detail) (1969)

Similar to LeWitt's first wall drawings shown at Paula Cooper Gallery in 1968, Wall Drawing #16 consists of a network of penciled lines, regulated by an internal logic imposed by the artist. In this instance, the specifications LeWitt conceived of before making the drawing determined that the bands of gray lines are 12 inches wide and should be drawn horizontally, vertically and diagonally to the right, and also should intersect. Generally arbitrary rules such as these are typical of the detailed instructions that the artist produced for each work. Subsequently, one or more assistants would carry out the plans, producing the drawings based on their individual interpretations of the instructions. These loosely predetermined schemes functioned as a means of emphasizing the concept over the execution, decentralizing the artist from the material realization of the finished work.

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Wall Drawing #439 (1985)

Wall Drawing #439, like many of LeWitt's later works, makes use of a wider variety of forms and colors. Perhaps influenced by his move to Italy, the colored washes lend #439 a frescoed effect. LeWitt's skillful use of the rich, variegated colors arranged in a fan-like cluster of cascading triangles provides the illusion of three-dimensionality. In a sense, LeWitt returned to the point in the development of artistic production when the artist's (and viewer's) eye was the only tool required to promote the illusion of depth and wholeness on a flat plane.

Related Artists and Major Works

Soft Spoken (1969)

Artist: Josef Albers (Read Full Artist Overview, Biography, and Artworks pages)

This work in the Homage to the Square series was executed almost 20 years into what may be the most sustained exploration of the relational character of color in 20th-century art. An application of a quasi-scientific method to art-making, the Homage works demonstrate the capacity of a strictly limited formal strategy to produce inexhaustible permutations and continually generate new visual and aesthetic experiences. In Soft Spoken, Albers has added a fourth square, and narrowed the range of color, while retaining the calculated asymmetry of the other works in the series. This late work continues and extends Albers's lifelong, and remarkably consistent, pedagogical focus on "opening eyes" through the repetition of forms and subtle color juxtapositions that generate internal friction, movement, and instability. Regarding them more as experiments than expressive statements, Albers continued adding to the series until the end of his life, "not because of the squares, but because there is no end with color." He donated this painting to the Metropolitan Museum of Art in 1972, a year after they honored Albers with the museum's first ever solo exhibition of a living artist.

False Start (1959)

Artist: Jasper Johns (Read Full Artist Overview, Biography, and Artworks pages)

For this piece, Johns eschewed the nonverbal symbols of his earlier works, instead relying upon the building blocks of language to draw viewers into a dialogue with the painting. The change of subject matter was occasioned by Johns' desire to move beyond his earlier targets and flags. As he noted, "The flags and targets have colors positioned in a predetermined way. I wanted to find a way to apply color so that the color would be determined by some other method." By focusing on colors and the words that represent them, Johns abstracted each, removing the traditional associations that accompanied them. Rather than hand-paint each letter, Johns used a store-bought stencil - a readymade method by which he could create an image without revealing the trace of the artist's hand. He stenciled the words that denote colors on top and underneath the various layers of paint as he worked. Johns transformed the words into objects by rendering most in colors unrelated to those which they verbally represented - "RED" appears painted in bright orange in the center of the canvas. Johns revealed the dissonance between the words and the colors, shifting their function from designation to a mere assembly of symbols, ripe for reconsideration.

Although he shifted media from encaustic to oil, Johns maintained his dialogue with the Abstract Expressionists through a technique he called "brushmarking." Influenced by John Cage's interest in the role of chance, Johns used the gestural technique of applying small sections of paint to the canvas purely according to arbitrary arm movements rather than any preconceived placement for each individual brushstroke. His use of brushmarking resulted in explosive bursts of color, as if in an erupting fireworks display, that highlight or obscure the uncannily hued words scattered across the canvas. The tension between the dynamic colors and the words dispersed among them creates the space for viewers to engage with what they see on a semiotic level. By incorporating language into his visual repertoire, Johns expanded his dialogue with viewers to encompass the function of visual and verbal symbols. His exploration of language stands as a clear precursor to Conceptual art's examination of words and their meanings in the late 1960s.

White Paintings (1951)

White Paintings (1951)

Artist: Robert Rauschenberg (Read Full Artist Overview, Biography, and Artworks pages)

Originally viewed as a scandalous swindle, Rauschenberg's White Paintings were an early codification of the artistic ideals that dominated his entire oeuvre. The White Paintings currently exist in five different permutations of multi-paneled canvases, which Rauschenberg intentionally left free of any mark of the artist's hand. By removing any gesture, the works could be, and were, re-fabricated by his friends and assistants, including fellow artists from Cy Twombly to Brice Marden. This removal of an authorial mark presaged both the mechanical appearance of Andy Warhol's silkscreened works and the slick surfaces of Ad Reinhardt's Abstract Paintings (1952-67), while also hearkening back to earlier modernist works like the monochromatic paintings of Russian Constructivist Alexander Rodchenko. The seemingly blank canvases, evenly coated in white house paint, serve as a backdrop that activates as viewers approach, coming alive with their shadows while also reflecting the light and sounds of the room they occupy. Thus, Rauschenberg succinctly allowed the "subject matter" of the White Paintings to shift with each new audience and new setting, and illustrated his interest in aleatory, or chance, processes in art, while also questioning the role of the artist in determining the meaning, or subject, of a work of art.

The White Paintings were initially exhibited in the dining hall of Black Mountain College in the summer of 1952 as a backdrop for The Event (Cage's Theatre Piece no. 1) - a multimedia performance combining poetry reading, dance, music determined by aleatory processes. During the performance, four panels of the White Paintings were suspended from the ceiling in the form of a cross with films and slides projected on them. While Charles Olsen and M. C. Richards read their poetry, Merce Cunningham danced through the audience, David Tudor played Cage's music on the piano, John Cage lectured on Meister Eckhart and Zen, and Rauschenberg himself played wax cylinders of old Edith Piaf records on an old Edison horn recorder.

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