A quick introduction to the celebrated founder of both Minimal and Conceptual Art
Sol LeWitt (1928-2007) was a leading proponent of Conceptual Art, which he famously explained by saying ‘the idea becomes a machine that makes the art’. In this way the artist conceives of art, which is then made by other hands and is self-explanatory. Often the instructions also operate as the title.
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.
LeWitt produced more than 1200 of his celebrated wall drawings — geometric drawings that are installed on walls following instructions issued by the artist to assistants. These works, which date from 1968, can be produced by anyone provided the instructions are obeyed. This approach is sometimes called ‘instruction-based art’.
Sol LeWitt (1928-2007), Vertical Brushstrokes, 1993. Gouache on paper. 11⅜ x 7¾ in (28.8 x 19.6 cm). This work was offered in First Open: Post-War & Contemporary Art on 4 March 2016 at Christie’s New York and sold for $16,250
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). This late period saw LeWitt depart from rigid geometry in favour of free flowing lines on paper in different colours such as Vertical Brushstrokes (1993) and (main image at top, left) Curvy Brushstrokes (1995).
Later in life, the artist visited Italy and discovered frescos by Renaissance artists, which inspired him to make work that he would ‘not be ashamed to show Giotto’, the early painter of large compositions on chapel walls.
Sol LeWitt (1928-2007), Color gouache with lines in four directions of varying lengths forming a 19" (40 cm) square, 1990. Gouache and graphite on paper. 22 x 30 in (55.8 x 76.2 cm). This work was offered in First Open: Post-War & Contemporary Art on 4 March at Christie’s New York and sold for $15,000
LeWitt was an avid collector of other artists’ work including Dan Flavin and Eva Hesse. He also assembled a large collection of musical scores by composers and, attracted to their flat figures and dynamic colours, Japanese woodblock prints from the 19th century.
Main image at top, left: Sol LeWitt (1928-2007), Curvy Brushstrokes, 1995. Gouache on paper. 22½ x 22½ in (57.1 x 57.1 cm). This work was offered in First Open: Post-War & Contemporary Art on 4 March 2016 at Christie’s New York and sold for $43,750. Top right: Sol LeWitt (1928-2007), Complex Form, Wall Structure, 1990.This work is number three from an edition of six. Painted wood. 70 x 25 x 16 in (177.8 x 63.5 x 40.6 cm). This work was offered in First Open: Post-War & Contemporary Art on 4 March 2016 at Christie’s New Yorkand sold for $68,750
For more features, interviews and videos, visit Christie’s Daily