Sol LeWitt died in 2007 at the age of 78. “A lodestar of modern American art…patron and friend of artists young and old…the opposite of the artist as celebrity” wrote Michael Kimmelman in an obituary in the New York Times. “Why does everybody love Sol LeWitt?” asked Peter Schjeldahl years earlier, in the New Yorker when a LeWitt retrospective opened at the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art in 2000. In the course of the article, Schjeldahl answered his own question. LeWitt’s work, he says, is “clear, accessible, and generous…. He structures large understandings of perception and thought… . His wall drawings belong in a hall of fame for parsimonious, incredibly potent inventions, like the lever and the wheel…. His art belongs directly to the viewer.” David Littlejohn, reviewing the same show in the Wall Street Journal, explained the wall drawings in this way: “By way of curt, gnomic verbal recipes for arrangements of repeated lines and geometrical shapes, LeWitt tried to remove from his creations all traces of narration, pictorialism or personal emotion. By letting other people draw or paint them on existing walls according to these recipes—with the stipulation that the drawings or paintings could be erased and replicated by still other people working elsewhere in other formats—he deprived collectors, gallery owners, curators and speculators of works ‘by his own hand,’ and, in fact, of any ‘works’ at all. There is nothing to store, nothing to ship, nothing to insure or bid on except a piece of paper describing the work and the artist’s signed certificate of its authenticity.”
LeWitt was born in 1928 in Hartford, Connecticut. He majored in art at Syracuse University, earning a B.F.A. in 1949. He received a Tiffany Award that enabled him to spend the summer of 1950 traveling in Europe and looking at art. Drafted into the U.S. Army in 1951, he was sent to Japan, then to Korea during the Korean War. In 1953 he went to New York, studied at what is now the School of Visual Arts and worked as a graphic designer. From 1960 through 1964 he worked at the Museum of Modern Art, first in the bookstore and then as a night receptionist. While there, he met artists Dan Flavin and Robert Ryman who were museum guards, and Robert Mangold who worked in the library. LeWitt began showing at the Dwan Gallery in New York in 1966, and in 1968 had exhibitions with Galerie Bruno Bischofberger in Europe and the Heiner Friedrich Gallery in Munich. His first museum exhibition was in 1969 at the Museum Haus Lange in Krefeld, Germany. His “Paragraphs on Conceptual Art,” published in Artforum in 1967, and “Sentences on Conceptual Art,” published in Art-Language in 1969, defined a new way of thinking about art. LeWitt has made prints consistently throughout his career, and his enormous list of exhibitions includes two print retrospectives: in 1974 at the Stedelijk Museum, Amsterdam and in 1986 at the Tate Gallery, London. He had two retrospectives of his varied work in sculpture and drawing; the first mounted by the Museum of Modern Art, New York, in 1978 and the second by the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art (traveling to the Museum of Contemporary Art, Chicago, and the Whitney Museum of American Art, New York) in 2000. LeWitt’s work is in the collections of nearly every contemporary art museum in the world, including the Museum of Modern Art, New York; the Tate Collection, London; and the Wadsworth Atheneum, Hartford, Connecticut, which also holds the LeWitt Collection, a large selection of work by contemporary artists assembled by LeWitt himself. His estate is represented by Pace Gallery in New York.
-Kathan Brown, Crown Point Press