Sol LeWitt — conceptual in more ways than one

LeWitt sculptureSol LeWitt, who died April 8, was a doubly conceptual artist.

Not only was he a key player in the development of Conceptualism as an artistic movement, but he was also a conceptual innovator, as economist David Galenson defines that term.

Among the typical characteristics of conceptual innovators that LeWitt shared:

  • His most highly valued works came toward the beginning of his career. The decline in price for LeWitt’s later works, in fact, was an early clue that set Galenson on his path to studying the patterns of price and quality in artists’ careers.
  • LeWitt left much of the actual work of fabricating his art to others, just as conceptual innovator Andy Warhol did. As the obituary in the New York Times stated, “Mr. LeWitt gently reminded everybody that architects are called artists — good architects, anyway — even though they don’t lay their own bricks, just as composers write music that other people play but are still musical artists. Mr. LeWitt, by his methods, permitted other people to participate in the creative process, to become artists themselves.”
  • His career moved through a variety of styles, like Picasso and Stella — “sculptures of white cubes, or drawings of geometric patterns, or splashes of paint like Rorschach patterns, …colored flagstone patterns, spiky sculptural blobs and ribbons of color, like streamers on New Year’s Eve, often as enormous decorations for buildings around the world. … like a psychedelic Matisse cutout, but on the scale of a drive-in movie. Other drawings consisted of gossamer lines, barely visible, as subtle as faintly etched glass.”

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