Few artists have made such an impact on the landscape of modern art as the American sculptor, draughtsman and printmaker, Sol LeWitt. A pioneer of Minimalism and Conceptualism, LeWitt produced some of the most intellectually complex artworks of the past 50 years and for ever changed the way that art is conceived and considered.
LeWitt was born in Hartford, Connecticut and studied at Syracuse University before serving with the United States Army during the Korean War. By 1953 he was living in New York, taking classes at the Cartoonists and Illustrators School (which became the School of Visual Arts). In 1955 he worked as a graphic designer for architects I. M. Pei, and later, from 1960-65, as a night receptionist at the Museum of Modern Art, where his co-workers included fellow artists Dan Flavin, Robert Mangold and Robert Ryman.
LeWitt’s breakthrough came in the mid-1960s with his first ‘structures’, as he called them. Through geometric constructions of repeated skeletal cubes, such as Two Open Modular Cubes/Half-Off (1972), LeWitt explored an idea of art that privileged the concept of an artwork above its material execution. This ‘Conceptual Art’ – a term he coined in 1967 – radically reinvented the relationship between artist and artwork, and mounted a serious challenge to the idea of the artist as master craftsman that had existed, essentially unchanged, since the Renaissance. ‘In Conceptual Art,’ LeWitt explained, ‘the idea or the concept is the most important aspect of the work.’ Just as a composer’s score was a work of art regardless of its performance, LeWitt’s modular cubic structures or his extraordinary wall drawings, such as Wall Drawing #260 (1975), were merely the variable results of concepts and systems the artist created independently of the work itself. For LeWitt the concept was the art; the work, therefore, could be produced by an assistant as much as by the artist himself, or need not even be produced at all.
LeWitt left New York in the 1980s for Spoleto, Italy. By the 1990s his wall drawings had become increasingly exuberant, in contrast to the austerity his sculptures had shown since the mid-1980s, the latter exampled most movingly in Black Form: Memorial to the Missing Jews (1987).
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