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Sol Lewitt

LEWITT, SOL (1928– ), U.S. sculptor, printmaker, draftsman, conceptual artist. LeWitt worked serially, exploring the same concept in several media: books, prints, wall drawings, drawings on paper, and structures (the artist's preferred terminology for his "sculptures"). His June 1967 essay "Paragraphs on Conceptual Art" serves as LeWitt's manifesto: "In conceptual art the idea or concept is the most important aspect of the work … all of the planning and decisions are made beforehand and the execution is a perfunctory affair. The idea becomes a machine that makes the art."

Born in Hartford, Connecticut, to Russian immigrant parents, LeWitt showed an interest in art as a child. He studied art as an undergraduate at Syracuse University (1945–49), learning how to paint and draw figuratively. During the Korean War he served in the United States Army overseas (1951–52). After the war he moved to New York, attending the Cartoonists and Illustrators School (now the School of Visual Arts). A decisive experience of this early period was a year employed as a graphic designer for the architect I.M. Pei (1955–56). LeWitt learned the value in having others implement his designs, a working method he continued to practice. In these years he experimented with painting in an Abstract Expressionist style and making pencil or ink figurative drawings, sometimes after Old Master paintings. LeWitt's first paintings to incorporate text and image were done in 1962. The following year he created several free-standing forms. His first modular pieces were completed in 1965 and a year later he combined the modules serially. With LeWitt believing that art must be neutral to allow the viewer access to the larger form and idea of the piece rather than to elicit emotion, his working materials are abstract and often colorless. LeWitt's final rejection of the traditional canvas and illusionistic imagery occurred in October 1968 when he developed his first wall drawing at the Paula Cooper Gallery, New York. His wall drawings begin as a set of directions for a draftsperson that produces the image, akin to an architect that presents plans to a builder. These detailed instructions delineate all aspects of line and form.

LeWitt designed several projects with Jewish themes, including the monument Black Form Dedicated to the Missing Jews (1989), now located in Hamburg, Germany, after the city of Muenster rejected the piece in 1987. A staid cinderblock wall standing 97½ inches high and 195 inches long placed in front of the city's white neoclassical town hall, LeWitt's painted black monument – without an inscription – is meant to evince the absence of the Jewish community. His wall painting at the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum, ominously titled Consequence (1993), is part of the museum's permanent collection. In 2005, LeWitt installed Lost Voices, a temporary site-specific sculpture for an abandoned synagogue in Stommeln, Germany.


S. LeWitt, "Paragraphs on Conceptual Art," in: Artforum (1967), 79–83; A. Legg (ed.), Sol LeWitt (1978). A. Zevi, Sol LeWitt: Critical Texts (1995); G. Garrels (ed.), Sol LeWitt: A Retrospective (2000).

Sources: Encyclopaedia Judaica. © 2008 The Gale Group. All Rights Reserved.