1928, Hartford, Connecticut
2007, New York, New York
Starting from the simple but radical new idea that an artwork's concept is more important than its form, Sol LeWitt helped revolutionize the definition of art in the 1960s. By the middle of that decade, LeWitt had rejected the dominant, psychologically charged abstract style of artmaking for impersonal, geometric forms. By repeating and varying a single principle, he created sculptural structures that were aesthetically satisfying even as their internal logic was pushed to the edge of irrationality.
LeWitt's procedure of repetition and variance is also the basis for his wall drawings. Each of these impermanent artworks consists of a set of the artist's instructions, something like a musical score, with the actual execution carried out by someone else.
Over the years, LeWitt's austere compositions gradually became more complex and sensuous, though they remained true to his original precepts.
What are instruction-based artworks?
The artist Sol LeWitt helped revolutionize the definition of art in the 1960s by presenting the simple but radical new idea that an artwork’s concept is more important than its form. Here, LeWitt discusses the beginnings of conceptual art.
There were a lot of changes in the air around 1960 or so. And everyone was, really interested in reinventing art, and starting from square one, and getting rid of all of the previous art, and trying to figure out new ways of thinking.
Artist Tom Marioni, a friend of LeWitt’s, agrees that they were taking on everything that had come before, including the art stars of their time.
Well, the abstract expressionists believed that their hand was guided by God. They were inspired and so on in expressing themselves, their deep feelings. And in the sixties then—with pop art and minimal art, which sort of paralleled each other—the art became cool.
It was a reaction against abstract expressionism. And so cool that it was analytical, like Sol LeWitt’s, where the idea was worked out ahead of time. And then, as he said, the execution was a perfunctory affair.
Curator Gary Garrels.
I think one of the wonderful things about LeWitt’s work, unlike some of the other artists who were involved with minimal and conceptual art, is a playfulness, an openendedness about the art. The art comes from very simple rational ideas. But he develops them into complex and playful forms. So it’s a dialogue that he welcomes the viewer to enter into.
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