Sol LeWitt (b. 1928, Hartford, Connecticut; d. 2007, New York) was a pioneer of conceptual art. In his seminal essay ‘Paragraphs on Conceptual Art’ (1967), he overturned aesthetic conventions by emphasising concept over process and product, and enunciating the significance of the idea in art. His works are inert, impersonal, and minimal, and he is often deemed a proponent of Minimalism, frequently exhibited alongside Donald Judd and Carl Andre. However, LeWitt is not a Minimalist. The reductive and essential nature of his work is the necessary outcome of his philosophy, a conviction that the concept of the work must not be obscured by relational narrative, romantic sentiment or subjectivity. His concern with classification demonstrates his intellectual approach to redefining the traditional boundaries of art. LeWitt sought to present works that disassociated from meaning, preferring impersonal, industrial and anti-humanist rationalisations. His beliefs were concurrent with other emerging forms of conceptual art in 1960s New York, perceived as a cerebral response to the anti-intellectual, action painting of the Abstract Expressionism that had preceded it. LeWitt was concerned with formal systems; his compositions echo Eadweard Muybridge’s locomotive sequential photographs, and transliterate musical tropes of repetition, phrase, and formal structure into serialised arrangements. Such logical systems permeate his prolific oeuvre. His work was instrumental in propelling the transition from modernism to post-modernism, by challenging the concept of art itself.
LeWitt graduated from Syracuse University, New York, in 1949 with a degree in Fine Art. From 1953, LeWitt worked at Seventeen magazine whilst attending School of Visual Arts, New York. In 1955, he worked as a graphic designer in the I M Pei architecture New York office. LeWitt met contemporaries Robert Ryman, Dan Flavin, Robert Mangold and Lucy Lippard in 1960 working at Museum of Modern Art, New York. In 1976 Lippard and LeWitt founded Printed Matter, an organisation to publish artists’ books. It was his inclusion in Dorothy Miller’s ‘Sixteen Americans’ (1959–60) at Museum of Modern Art, New York, alongside Robert Rauschenberg, Frank Stella and Jasper Johns that confirmed his standing at the forefront of contemporary art. As boundaries between disciplines fell away and artistic practice became redefined, LeWitt collaborated with choreographer Lucinda Childs and composer Philip Glass on Dance (1979). LeWitt participated in seminal group exhibitions, ‘Primary Structures’, Jewish Museum, New York; ‘10’, Dwan Gallery, New York (both in 1966); documenta IV, in 1968; and Harald Szeeman’s exhibition ‘When Attitude Becomes Form’, Kunsthalle Bern, Switzerland. Major retrospectives of Lewitt’s work have been held at San Francisco Museum of Modern Art, 2000, and Massachusetts Museum of Contemporary Art, 2008. His works are part of major collections worldwide, such as Tate, London; Centre Georges Pompidou, Paris; Guggenheim Museum, New York, and Hirshhorn Museum and Sculpture Garden, Washington, DC.Read more