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Sol LeWitt Photo

Sol LeWitt

American Conceptual Artist and Painter

Born: September 9, 1928 - Hartford, Connecticut
Died: April 8, 2007 - New York, New York
Movements and Styles:
Conceptual Art
"No matter what form [the artwork] may finally have it must begin with an idea. It is the process of conception and realization with which the artist is concerned."
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Sol LeWitt Signature
"Conceptual artists are mystics rather than rationalists. They leap to conclusions that logic cannot reach."
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Sol LeWitt Signature
"I wasn't really that interested in objects. I was interested in ideas."
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Sol LeWitt Signature
"Minimalism wasn't a real idea - it ended before it started."
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"You shouldn't be a prisoner of your own ideas."
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"When words such as painting and sculpture are used, they connote a whole tradition and imply a consequent acceptance of this tradition, thus placing limitations on the artist who would be reluctant to make art that goes beyond the limitations."
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"Minimal art went nowhere."
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Sol LeWitt Signature
"When an artist uses a conceptual form of art, it means that all of the planning and decisions are made beforehand and the execution is a perfunctory affair. The idea becomes a machine that makes the art."
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Sol LeWitt Signature

Summary of Sol LeWitt

Sol LeWitt earned a place in the history of art for his leading role in the Conceptual movement. His belief in the artist as a generator of ideas was instrumental in the transition from the modern to the postmodern era. Conceptual art, expounded by LeWitt as an intellectual, pragmatic act, added a new dimension to the artist's role that was distinctly separate from the romantic nature of Abstract Expressionism. LeWitt believed the idea itself could be the work of art, and maintained that, like an architect who creates a blueprint for a building and then turns the project over to a construction crew, an artist should be able to conceive of a work and then either delegate its actual production to others or perhaps even never make it at all. LeWitt's work ranged from sculpture, painting, and drawing to almost exclusively conceptual pieces that existed only as ideas or elements of the artistic process itself.


  • LeWitt's refined vocabulary of visual art consisted of lines, basic colors and simplified shapes. He applied them according to formulae of his own invention, which hinted at mathematical equations and architectural specifications, but were neither predictable nor necessarily logical. For LeWitt, the directions for producing a work of art became the work itself; a work was no longer required to have an actual material presence in order to be considered art.
  • LeWitt's conceptual pieces often did take on at least basic material form, although not necessarily at his own hands. In the spirit of the medieval workshop in which the master conceives of a work and apprentices carry out his instructions based on preliminary drawings, LeWitt would provide an assistant or a group of assistants with directions for producing a work of art. Instructions for these works, whether large-scale wall drawings or outdoor sculptures, were deliberately vague so that the end result was not completely controlled by the artist that conceived the work. In this way, LeWitt challenged some very fundamental beliefs about art, including the authority of the artist in the production of a work. His emphasis is most often on process and materials (or the lack thereof in the case of the latter) rather than on imbuing a work with a specific message or narrative. Art, for LeWitt, could exist for its own sake. Meaning was not a requirement.
  • Whereas many Minimalist artists turned to industrial materials, LeWitt simplified even further, still employing traditional materials - wood, canvas, paint, for instance - but focusing instead on concepts and systems. While the use of industrial materials implied a certain expectation of permanence with regard to a work of art, in direct contrast, LeWitt appreciated the ephemeral character and impermanence of Conceptual art. In short, he let the traditional materials speak for themselves, to demonstrate their own vulnerability to decay, destruction, or obsolescence.

Biography of Sol LeWitt

Sol LeWitt Photo

Solomon "Sol" LeWitt was the only child of Russian Jewish parents. His family lived in Hartford, Connecticut until his father, a doctor, died when Sol was six years old. Thereafter, LeWitt and his mother, a nurse, lived with his aunt in New Britain, Connecticut.

Progression of Art


Wall Structure Blue

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.

Oil on canvas and painted wood - LeWitt Collection


Standing Open Structure Black

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.

Painted wood - LeWitt Collection


Serial Project #1 (ABCD)

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.

Baked enamel on aluminum - Museum of Modern Art, New York


Buried Cube Containing an Object of Importance but Little Value

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."

Black and white photographs mounted on paper - LeWitt Collection


Wall Drawing #16 (detail)

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.

Pencil - Collection Michalke


Wall Drawing #439

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.

Color ink wash - Cuomo Collection

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Edited and published by The Art Story Contributors

"Sol LeWitt Artist Overview and Analysis". [Internet]. . TheArtStory.org
Content compiled and written by The Art Story Contributors
Edited and published by The Art Story Contributors
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First published on 21 Nov 2011. Updated and modified regularly
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