Interviewing Sol LeWitt required a ride into the Connecticut countryside, where he lives with his wife and daughters. Many of the artists associated with Minimalism fled contemporary art’s urban setting as soon as they could. This set me to thinking about the nature of Minimalism and the complex and often paradoxical role that LeWitt’s work plays in its development.
One of the interesting things about living through a period is that you know where the neat and tidy hindsight of recorded history and the happenstance of the moment diverge. I have known LeWitt since my days as an art student in New York in the ‘60s. At that time he was one of the hard core of Minimalist artists that included the sculptors Donald Judd, Dan Flavin, and Robert Smithson as well as the painters Jo Baer, Robert Ryman, and Robert Mangold. Their works were characterized by an austere industrial aesthetic and reductivism that made their pieces seem highly impersonal, intellectual, and urban. Yet as LeWitt moved from making systemic objects to wall drawings and eventually what can only be called murals, his use of plans, diagrams, and instructions emphasized the ideas that circumscribed his work and the nature of those decisions that constitute an artist’s taste and aesthetic vision—or in LeWitt’s case, those of the people hired to execute his work.
LeWitt’s work calls our attention to the disparity between the world of language and that of objects and actions. By focusing on the disjunction between these terms, LeWitt bridged the gap between Minimalism and Conceptual art. As an artist he is intent on both making art just another object in the world and seeking to dematerialize it. Although LeWitt’s works of the last 20 years is still premised on the tension that exists between what can be said and what can be shown, the murals, wall drawings and sculptures he now produces are increasingly eccentric in form and individualistic in execution. After lunch at a café in town, a visit to the local synagogue that he designed and the warehouse were he stores his vast collection, Sol LeWitt and I retired to the comfort of his living room to excavate the past and shed light on the present.