Notes on Sol LeWitt I

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Notes on an interview with Sol LeWitt by Saul Ostrow for BOMB Magazine (Fall 2003). See full interview here: http://bombmagazine.org/article/2583/sol-lewitt

… 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.

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My thinking derived from Muybridge (fig. above) and the idea of seriality, from music. … I wanted to emphasize the primacy of the idea in making art. My interest, starting around 1965, was in building conceptual systems, which grew out of Minimalism. Basically it was a repudiation of Duchampian aesthetics.

As far as Minimalism goes, I don’t think it existed as an idea at all, it was only a stylistic reaction to the rhetoric of Abstract Expressionism. It was self-defeating, because simplicity of form could only go so far. It ended once the simplest form was achieved …

In my case, I used the elements of these simple forms-square, cube, line and color-to produce  logical systems. Most of these systems were finite; that is, they were complete using all possible variations. This kept them simple.

“…an endless series of series,…” “… an endless series of variations.” They were reactions to the dead end of Minimalism. … The other response to Minimalism was the idea of process, the simple act of painting. Ryman (fig. below) is the prime example of this.

The use of serial ideas became my vocabulary.

Q: Once you start working serially, a certain amount of decision-making is being deferred. Say in the case of your wall drawings, which existed as a set of instructions. Giving the script over to someone else is adding another variable to the formula and has been interpreted as an attempt either to de-aestheticize the work or at least to distance the artist from the results so that it wouldn’t be about the artist’s taste. I once did your wall drawing myself. You sent me a set of instructions that read, “Using pencil, draw 1,000 random straight lines 10 inches long each day for 10 days, in a 10-by-10-foot square.” The distribution of the lines in the square was totally up to me. I didn’t know what you wanted it to look like.

A: What it looked like wasn’t important. It didn’t matter what you did as long as the lines were distributed randomly throughout the area. In many of the wall pieces there is very little latitude for the draftsman or draftswoman to make changes, but it is evident anyway, visually, that different people make different works. I have done other pieces that give the draftsperson a great liberty in interpreting an action. In this way the appearance of the work is secondary to the idea of the work, which makes the idea of primary importance. The system is the work of art; the visual work of art is the proof of the system. The visual aspect can’t be understood without understanding the system. It isn’t what it looks like but what it is that is of basic importance.

The ’60s were awash in politics and revolution. … One of the ideas was the relation to art as a commodity. I thought by doing drawings on the wall, they would be non-transportable-therefore a commitment by the owner would be implied, and they could not be bought or sold easily.  I also did a number of works that would be sold for $100… These were maps and postcards with drawings or cutouts, crumpled paper, folded paper, torn paper, and so on. Also since wall drawings were done from instructions, anyone could do one, no matter how badly, just as anyone can have a self-made Flavin very easily.

… since art is a vehicle for the transmission of ideas through form, the reproduction of the form only reinforces the concept. It is the idea that is being reproduced. Anyone who understands the work of art owns it. We all own the Mona Lisa.

… there’s always a reaction against whatever is standard. It was to be expected. The reason I think the art of the ’60s is valuable, both the Duchampian and the non-Duchampian models, is that it freed art from the formal and aesthetic. It allowed art to move toward the narrative.

People still see things as visual objects without understanding what they are. They don’t understand that the visual part may be boring but it’s the narrative that’s interesting. … During the ’70s I was interested in words and meaning as a way of making art.

Minimal art went nowhere. Conceptual art became the liberating idea that gave the art of the next 40 years its real impetus. All of the significant art of today stems from Conceptual art. This includes the art of installation, political, feminist and socially directed art. The other great development has been in photography, but that too was influenced by Conceptual art.

 

 

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