American
1928-2007

Sol LeWitt

Sol Lewitt was an American artist best known for his wall drawings and structure. LeWitt was born in Hartford, Connecticut to Jewish immigrants from Russia. As a child, he attended art classes at the Wadsworth Athenaeum with his mother. He later received a Bachelors in Fine Arts from Syracuse University in 1949. After graduation, LeWitt traveled to Europe where he encountered old master paintings.

 

LeWitt moved to New York City in 1953, where he began to develop his distinct style. In his early years in New York, LeWitt worked in a variety of jobs, ranging from layout design to working for I.M. Pei. These diverse experiences helped shape his work. Later, in 1960, he worked at the Musem of Modern Art (MoMA) as a receptionist. Many other young artists worked at MoMA at the same time, including Robert Ryman, Lucy Lippard, Dan Flavin and Robert Mangold.

 

While in New York, LeWitt began to experiment with his “structures,” one of the series of works that have lead to him being considered as one of the founders of Conceptual art. LeWitt’s early structures were composed of open cubes and a radical simplification of form. By focusing on the structure itself, these modular works represented a new minimalist understanding of form, space and sculpture. He also created similar three dimensional forms out of cinder blocks in his “cube” series. Sol LeWitt achieved many early successes with this body of sculptural work. He was part of many of the seminal shows in the early 1960s that helped coalesced minimalist art.

 

For example, he was in a 1964 show curated by Dan Flavin at the Kaymar Gallery and was also in the Jewish Museum’s definitive show “Primary Structures” where LeWitt, along with contemporaries such as Robert Smithson, Ellsworth Kelly, Don Flavin, Carl Andre, Donald Judd and Walter de Maria. These artists helped revolutionize art in the 60s and change the definition of the artist. While the Abstract Expressionist painter was a maker, these could be termed designers rather than makers. As Mark di Suvero once said about Donald Judd, he “doesn’t do the work” and “the point is not whether one makes the work or not.”

 

In 1968, LeWitt began developing his wall drawings, a body of work that has since come to define his career. His wall drawings were simple, two-dimensional works applied directly to the wall. These drawings drew from his “structures” in both their simplicity and focus on pure geometric forms. They were composed of different permutations of the line – diagonal, horizontal, and vertical. What made these installations so radical was the way in which LeWitt rethought the concept of the work. Instead of focusing on the finished product, LeWitt produced individual concepts for each wall drawing. These concepts or schematics were more important than the installation.

 

He was selling an idea rather than a finished work. Even today, his works are still reproduced based on these schematics and collectors buy the concept drawing, not the actual finished work. These works are all, of course, done to LeWitt’s exacting standards. Another important aspect of these installations is their temporarily; of the more than a thousand drawings produced by LeWitt, the majority were only installed for a set period of time before they were destroyed.

 

However, there are permanent works by LeWitt installed in both public spaces and art museums.

One of the final artistic developments of LeWitt’s long career was his incorporation of color into his drawings in the 1970s and 80s. LeWitt, after spending time in Italy studying the old masters and, particularly, frescoes, began to use bright colors in his designs. Many of his later works are highly colored and also expand upon his early use of straight lines. He began to used curved, flowing shapes instead of solely straight lines.

 

Over his long career, LeWitt has showed in a range of galleries and museums. He has had solo shows at MoMA, the Whitney Museum of American Art, the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art and Dia:Beacon. His work is held in numerous museum collections such as the Tate Modern, the Pompidou Centre, the Guggenheim, the MoMA and the National Gallery of Art.

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