In autumn 2009, in our Double exhibition series we will examine the conceptual art by American Sol LeWitt. In the mid-1950s, he embarked on a career in architect Ieoh Ming Pei’s graphics studio in New York and in the 1960s he published his own ideas on art theory.
Indeed, in the essays that appeared in "Paragraphs on conceptual art" (1967) and a year later "Sentences on conceptual art", he defined a quite unique approach to art, setting it off from the predominant Abstract Expressionism of the day, and coined the term 'conceptual art' that was to be used by an entire new generation of artists. He summarized the essence of his views in 1967 as follows: "I will refer to the kind of art in which I am involved as conceptual art. In conceptual art the idea or concept is the most important aspect of the work."
The artist's instructions as expressed on paper serve as the basis for the wall painting, which represents the visual, artistic manifestation of the idea. Similar to the presentation of Lawrence Weiner's language sculptures, which were on show this June in the Double exhibition series, there is a linguistic conception underlying Sol LeWitt's work, though it is manifested differently. While Lawrence Weiner has the actual text written on the wall with Sol LeWitt the precise written instructions result in an opulent, colorful wall drawing.
Wholly rooted in the critical mindset of the 1960s, LeWitt broke radically with numerous art traditions and questioned the relationship between work and author. The artist's own act of creation is restricted to the conceptualization and is isolated from the execution of the work by painting/drawing. Since, or so Sol LeWitt's concept would have it, anyone can realize the work of art, this considerably reduces the aura surrounding the artist as a person inspired by a unique idea. With this novel approach, LeWitt ushered in a significant shift towards an objective art less shaped by the intellect or emotions. Today, it is difficult to imagine how radical this artistic strategy must have seemed 40 years ago.