Each week we pay homage to a select “Original Creator” — an iconic artist from days gone by whose work influences and informs today’s creators. These are artists who were innovative and revolutionary in their fields. Bold visionaries and radicals, groundbreaking frontiersmen and women who inspired and informed culture as we know it today. This week: Sol LeWitt.
Few visual artists have had as much impact on the current contemporary art landscape as Sol Lewitt. Regarded as a founder of both Minimal and Conceptual art, Lewitt’s mathematically-based works driven by process, variations, linear systems and natural language instructions laid the theoretical groundwork for generations of artists that followed, including many of today’s generative and code-based artists. For LeWitt, it was the idea, not the artist’s hand, that defined a work, and in his definitive essay on conceptual art “Paragraphs on Conceptual Art” (1967), LeWitt proclaimed: “The idea becomes a machine that makes the art.”
Starting out as a night receptionist at the Museum of Modern Art in NYC, Lewitt was introduced to fellow MoMA employees and future artists Dan Flavin, Robert Mangold, and Robert Ryman. Collectively responding to the emotional intensity and gestural bravado of the Abstract Expressionists, LeWitt and his contemporaries wanted to take art back to basics, which in LeWitt’s case meant back to the cube.
Over the course of his lengthy career, LeWitt created a prolific output of two and three-dimensional work, ranging from wall drawings (over 1,200 of which have been executed) to hundreds of works on paper, as well as structures in the form of towers, pyramids, geometric forms, and progressions. LeWitt used the elements of these simple forms—square, cube, line and color—to produce and explore logical systems, at first by himself, and later via teams of assistants. All the while, his deceptively simple geometric structures and emphasis on the ideas behind his work rather than its execution, shaped not only the aesthetic but also the values of artists for generations to come.