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Sol LeWitt (American, 1928-2007)
Also known as: Lewitt, Sol; Sol LeWiitBirth Place: Hartford (Hartford county, Connecticut, United States)
Solomon “Sol” LeWitt was born in Hartford, Connecticut in 1928. He graduated from Syracuse University in 1949 with a bachelor’s degree in painting and sculpture, and after serving in the Korean War, he moved to New York City where he studied at the Cartoonist and Illustrators School (today known as the School of Visual Arts). In 1960, LeWitt took a position at the Museum of Modern Art, where he met Dan Flavin and Robert Ryman, among other co-workers who became influential artists, and it was the museum’s exhibition “Sixteen Americans” that introduced him to the work of Jasper Johns, Robert Rauschenberg, and Frank Stella. All of these artists were searching for a new direction in art, and one of the most important exhibitions in which he participated was “Primary Structures” at the Jewish Museum in 1966. This exhibition was radical in that the artist was suddenly viewed as “designer” rather than as “maker,” and it included other artists such as Donald Judd and Robert Morris.
LeWitt came to prominence in the late 1960s, largely influencing the revolutionary aesthetics of Minimalism and Conceptual Art, turning away from the popular abstract expressionist movement that his post-World War II contemporaries explored. His primary interest concerned maintaining an emphasis on the concept and idea in art-making, questioning the infamous question of “what is art?” With no interest in the narrative or even the visual image produced, LeWitt explored what art can be, focusing on the thought process in artistic creation, stressing that “The idea itself, even if not made visual, is as much a work of art as any finished product.” Eliminating the narrative and instead creating works that implemented geometric shapes and lines, his works were more like puzzles to solve than pictures to digest, challenging viewers to divert from the work itself and to focus rather on the underlying ideas and thought processes involved. To achieve this, LeWitt tended to use white paint and white materials for his sculptures, emphasizing simplicity to express the importance of the plan itself over the execution of the plan. Most of his works are drawn from his interest in the serial, using the same shapes and lines repeated over and over in various systems. He is known for his wall drawings, with the Paula Cooper Gallery in New York exhibiting Wall Drawing #1 in 1968, but he also experimented with various mediums throughout his career and created large three-dimensional works. LeWitt also used assistants later on, supporting his theory of the artist as designer; the one who provides a set of instructions that can be installed again and again, with the original idea in the artist’s mind as the essence of the art.
In 1978, the Museum of Modern Art held a retrospective of his work, creating a reevaluation of not only the intellectual basis of his work, but also of the undeniable aesthetics and powerful beauty it demands. Sol LeWitt passed away in 2007 in New York City, but his wall drawings at the Massachusetts Museum of Contemporary Art will be the subject of a solo exhibition until 2033.
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