Mr. LeWitt, left, examining the installation of his work for a retrospective at the Whitney Museum of American Art in 2000. [Is that Jo Watanabe* on the right?] Photo: Librado Romero/The New York Times
Sol LeWitt, Master of Conceptualism, Dies at 78
By MICHAEL KIMMELMAN
Published: April 9, 2007
Sol LeWitt, whose deceptively simple geometric sculptures and drawings and ecstatically colored and jazzy wall paintings established him as a lodestar of modern American art, died yesterday in New York. He was 78 and lived mostly in Chester, Conn.
The cause was complications from cancer, said Susanna Singer, a longtime associate.
Mr. LeWitt helped establish Conceptualism and Minimalism as dominant movements of the postwar era. A patron and friend of colleagues young and old, he was the opposite of the artist as celebrity. He tried to suppress all interest in him as opposed to his work; he turned down awards and was camera-shy and reluctant to grant interviews. He particularly disliked the prospect of having his photograph in the newspaper.
Typically, a 1980 work called "Autobiography" consisted of more than 1,000 photographs he took of every nook and cranny of his Manhattan loft, down to the plumbing fixtures, wall sockets and empty marmalade jars, and documented everything that had happened to him in the course of taking the pictures. But he appeared in only one photograph, which was so small and out of focus that it is nearly impossible to make him out. His work — sculptures of white cubes, or drawings of geometric patterns, or splashes of paint like Rorschach patterns — tested a viewer's psychological and visual flexibility. See a line. See that it can be straight, thin, broken, curved, soft, angled or thick. Enjoy the differences. The test was not hard to pass if your eyes and mind were open, which was the message of Mr. LeWitt's art.
He reduced art to a few of the most basic shapes (quadrilaterals, spheres, triangles), colors (red, yellow, blue, black) and types of lines, and organized them by guidelines he felt in the end free to bend. Much of what he devised came down to specific ideas or instructions: a thought you were meant to contemplate, or plans for drawings or actions that could be carried out by you, or not. [read on...]
*Watanabe Studio, New York. Jo Watanabe, a former wall drawing assistant and screenprint specialist, became LeWitt's principal printer in the mid-1970's and remains so today.
see also (thanks to MRiver!):
Sentences on Conceptual Art
by Sol Lewitt
- Conceptual artists are mystics rather than rationalists. They leap to conclusions that logic cannot reach.
- Rational judgements repeat rational judgements.
- Irrational judgements lead to new experience.
- Formal art is essentially rational.
- Irrational thoughts should be followed absolutely and logically.
- If the artist changes his mind midway through the execution of the piece he compromises the result and repeats past results.
- The artist's will is secondary to the process he initiates from idea to completion. His wilfulness may only be ego.
- 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.
- The concept and idea are different. The former implies a general direction while the latter is the component. Ideas implement the concept.
- Ideas can be works of art; they are in a chain of development that may eventually find some form. All ideas need not be made physical.
- Ideas do not necessarily proceed in logical order. They may set one off in unexpected directions, but an idea must necessarily be completed in the mind before the next one is formed.
- For each work of art that becomes physical there are many variations that do not.
- A work of art may be understood as a conductor from the artist's mind to the viewer's. But it may never reach the viewer, or it may never leave the artist's mind.
- The words of one artist to another may induce an idea chain, if they share the same concept.
- Since no form is intrinsically superior to another, the artist may use any form, from an expression of words (written or spoken) to physical reality, equally.
- If words are used, and they proceed from ideas about art, then they are art and not literature; numbers are not mathematics.
- All ideas are art if they are concerned with art and fall within the conventions of art.
- One usually understands the art of the past by applying the convention of the present, thus misunderstanding the art of the past.
- The conventions of art are altered by works of art.
- Successful art changes our understanding of the conventions by altering our perceptions.
- Perception of ideas leads to new ideas.
- The artist cannot imagine his art, and cannot perceive it until it is complete.
- The artist may misperceive (understand it differently from the artist) a work of art but still be set off in his own chain of thought by that misconstrual.
- Perception is subjective.
- The artist may not necessarily understand his own art. His perception is neither better nor worse than that of others.
- An artist may perceive the art of others better than his own.
- The concept of a work of art may involve the matter of the piece or the process in which it is made.
- Once the idea of the piece is established in the artist's mind and the final form is decided, the process is carried out blindly. There are many side effects that the artist cannot imagine. These may be used as ideas for new works.
- The process is mechanical and should not be tampered with. It should run its course.
- There are many elements involved in a work of art. The most important are the most obvious.
- If an artist uses the same form in a group of works, and changes the material, one would assume the artist's concept involved the material.
- Banal ideas cannot be rescued by beautiful execution.
- It is difficult to bungle a good idea.
- When an artist learns his craft too well he makes slick art.
- These sentences comment on art, but are not art.
First published in 0-9 (New York), 1969, and Art-Language (England), May 1969