Sol LeWitt (September 9, 1928 - April 8, 2007) was an American artist linked to various movements, including Conceptual art and Minimalism. LeWitt rose to fame in the late 1960s with his wall drawings and "structures" (a term he preferred instead of "sculptures") but was prolific in a wide range of media including drawing, printmaking, and painting.
He has been the subject of hundreds of solo exhibitions in museums and galleries around the world since 1965. His prolific two and three-dimensional work ranges from wall drawings (over 1200 of which have been executed) to hundreds of works on paper extending to structures in the form of towers, pyramids, geometric forms, and progressions. These works range in size from gallery-sized installations to monumental outdoor pieces. Sol LeWitt’s frequent use of open, modular structures originates from the cube, a form that influenced the artist’s thinking from the time that he first became an artist.
LeWitt was born in Hartford, Connecticut to a family of Jewish immigrants from Russia. After receiving a BFA from Syracuse University in 1949, LeWitt traveled to Europe where he was exposed to Old Master painting. Shortly thereafter, he served in the Korean War, first in California, then Japan, and finally Korea. LeWitt moved to New York City in the 1950s and studied at the School of Visual Arts while also pursuing his interest in design at Seventeen magazine, where he did paste-ups, mechanicals, and photostats. Later, for a year, he was a graphic designer in the office of architect I.M. Pei. Around that time, LeWitt also discovered the work of the late 19th-century photographer Eadweard Muybridge, whose studies in sequence and locomotion were an early influence. These experiences, combined with an entry-level job he took in 1960 at the Museum of Modern Art (MoMA) in New York, would influence LeWitt's later work.
At the MoMA, LeWitt’s co-workers included fellow artists Robert Ryman, Dan Flavin, and Robert Mangold. Curator Dorothy Canning Miller's now famous 1960 “Sixteen Americans” exhibition with work by Jasper Johns, Robert Rauschenberg, and Frank Stella created a swell of excitement and discussion among the community of artists with whom LeWitt associated. In 1966, he particpated in the seminal "Primary Structures" exhibit at the Jewish Museum in New York submitting an untitled, open modular cube of 9 units. Interviewed in 1993 about those years LeWitt remarked, “I decided I would make color or form recede and proceed in a three-dimensional way.”
MoMA gave Sol LeWitt his first retrospective in 1978-79. The exhibition traveled to various American venues. Other major exhibitions since include Sol LeWitt Drawings 1958-1992, which was organized by the Gemeentemuseum in The Hague, the Netherlands in 1992 which traveled over the next three years to museums in the United Kingdom, Germany, Switzerland, France, Spain, and the United States; and in 1996, the Museum of Modern Art, New York mounted a traveling survey exhibition: Sol LeWitt Prints: 1970-1995. In recent years the artist was the subject of exhibitions at P.S. 1 Contemporary Center, Long Island City (Concrete Blocks); The Addison Gallery of American Art, Andover (Twenty-Five Years of Wall Drawings, 1968-1993); and Wadsworth Atheneum Museum of Art, Hartford (Incomplete Cubes), which traveled to three art museums in the United States.
In 2006, LeWitt’s “Drawing Series…” was displayed at Dia:Beacon and was devoted to the 1970s drawings by the conceptual artist. He had drawn directly on the walls using graphite, colored pencil, crayon, and chalk. The works were based on LeWitt’s complex principles, which eliminated the limitations of the canvas for more extensive constructions.
LeWitt’s most recent retrospective was organized by the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art in 2000. The exhibition traveled to the Museum of Contemporary Art, Chicago, and Whitney Museum of American Art, New York. At the time of his death, LeWitt had just organized a retrospective of his work at the Allen Memorial Art Museum in Oberlin, Ohio.
Sol LeWitt: A Wall Drawing Retrospective, a landmark collaboration between the Yale University Art Gallery (YUAG), MASS MoCA (Masschusetts Museum of Contemporary Art), and the Williams College Museum of Art (WCMA) will open to the public on November 16, 2008, at MASS MoCA in North Adams, Massachusetts and be on view for 25 years. The retrospective will be housed in a three-story 27,000 square foot historic mill building in the heart of MASS MoCA’s campus now being fully restored by Bruner/Cott and Associates architects (and outfitted with a sequence of new interior walls constructed to LeWitt’s specifications.) The exhibition will consist of more than 100 works –- comprising nearly one acre of wall surface -- that LeWitt created over 40 years from 1968-2007 and will include several drawings never before seen, some of which LeWitt created for the project shortly before his death.
Sol LeWitt was one of the main figures of his time; he transformed the idea and practice of drawing and changed the relationship between an idea and the art it produces. LeWitt’s art is not about the singular hand of the artist; it is the ideas behind the works that surpass each work itself.