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Sol LeWitt

American, 1928 - 2007

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Sol LeWitt was born in Hartford, Connecticut, in 1928. After studying fine arts at Syracuse University, LeWitt served in the Korean War producing posters for the United States army. In 1953, LeWitt moved to New York where he held a position as a draftsman for architect I.M. Pei, which instilled in him an early appreciation for geometric precision and collaboration. Later, LeWitt worked as a receptionist at the Museum of Modern Art where he was surrounded by a community of artists who sought a new direction for art-making and who encouraged LeWitt to pursue art as a profession. Sol LeWitt was a pioneer of the 1960s Conceptual Art movement, emphasizing the importance of ideas over the material aspects of a work of art. In his practice, he uses an aesthetic of basic geometric shapes and repeated lines to reflect a sophisticated engagement with a world beyond the perceptual. He articulated the principles of his work in two seminal texts entitled Paragraphs on Conceptual Art (1967) and Sentences on Conceptual Art (1969).

Known initially for his sculptures that use open, modular structures originating from the cube, the artist began devising wall drawings in 1968, for which the owner of each piece received only a set of instructions. In Philadelphia, LeWitt is best known for the blue barrel-vaulted ceiling of geometric patterns in the Museum’s modern and contemporary galleries entitled On a Blue Ceiling, Eight Geometric Figures: Circle, Trapezoid, Parallelogram, Rectangle, Square, Triangle, Right Triangle, X (Wall Drawing No. 351) (Philadelphia Museum of Art, 1982-121-1), which has been on view at the Museum since 1981. As with his instructions for the proposed garden, LeWitt left the execution of the ceiling to the hands of others. Another drawing by LeWitt in the Museum’s collection is Location of a Circle (Philadelphia Museum of Art, 2000-95-1) from 1973.

In the 1980s, LeWitt began working with cinder blocks. Two examples of such structures are located in the Anne d’Harnoncourt Sculpture Garden where LeWitt’s Steps and Pyramid, realized in 2010, are currently installed. In the 1990s, random curvilinear shapes and highly saturated colors became present in his structures. An example of one of these later works in the Museum’s collection is LeWitt’s Splotch (Philadelphia Museum of Art, 2003-147-1a--i) from 2003, defined by vibrant colors and mountainous contours.

Allowing for a collaborative and participatory network of ideas, LeWitt’s artwork activates both the physical domain of the art itself as well as the ideological arena of human thinking. Free from the artist’s literal hand, his methodology is often likened to that of a composer whose precise instructions are vulnerable to interpretation with every performance.

Sol LeWitt: Lines in Four Directions in Flowers, 2012

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