Le Witt Chapter 1

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S.R.: We are guests in the house of Sol LeWitt and it's the second of October 2004. I always - as a great admirer of your work - asked myself how did you come to that point that you developed this ideas on Conceptual Art, this sentences and paragraphs on Conceptual Art. Can you give us a little bit the background?

S.L.: We have to go back to the early 60s, and of course there's the idea of minimalism that was – as a reaction to abstract expressionism here – and it took different ways – pop art was one, minimal was another, but I was involved in the minimal art mainly. It seemed to me that at a point that minimal art was a dead end, that it was in itself a formal idea – based in the idea of form - whereas it seemed like that it had the idea of form as simplicity and form as a unit, but it seemed like it was to me a dead end. It seemed to be not an idea that would develop more because it had become more and more simple, it had become more inward-looking in itself and I felt that there were two... - one thing was that I wanted to make it more dynamic. One of the reasons, one of the... - my background ideas was the art of Eadward Muybridge who was to me one of the really great thinkers of modern art, and the idea of a serial progression came from that, and I thought that – what I wanted to do was to make ... instead of an art of form into an art of content, so that the art would in a way tell a story. The kind of story that I wanted to tell was based still in the function of art the function of colour, the function of form, line, the idea of form becomes an idea of cube. But then I had the idea to make a system, and the first system was to do with a form within a form, and the basic form that I was involved with was a cube, but the basic component of a cube was a square. So you had the idea of a square within a cube or a cube within a square, and then the idea that... make it all of the possible combinations which made it into a finite system. There was the first large idea that I had that came out of the idea of minimalism, but I had the idea of a perhaps we'll say a concept that ignited the system or the series. So that for instance with Muybridge it was the idea of moving objects, moving figures. And I wanted to make a moving idea – of an idea ... that had movement. That was how I started to think about doing - first art in series and art as a total kind of idea of movement and of content and system, and then went on from that.

S.R.: So, you said that Eadward Muybridge was one of your relation-points or thinking points. What else in the world – or you said you wanted to do something like the opposite of abstract expressionism – what else would you call or consider as influence – if you use this word - in the world, for your thinking, for your background, for your context?

S.L. Well, through the time of minimalism there were other people involved in this sort of thing. One of the most important pieces at that time was a Dan Flavin piece – the »Nominal Three«: which was »one, one-two, one-two-three« with the fluorescent bulbs. And the other was Judd's Progression Pieces. But the Judd pieces were very complex and not many people really understood, but the Flavin piece was the absolute minimal idea of a movement, and there was the first kind of idea of a movement that was around at that time. When we talk about the origins of Conceptual Art, one thing that myself and people were thinking – more or less like I was, that came out of minimalism - was that the rejection of the idea that came through Duchamp into art in the idea of irony; we didn't want to have anything to do with pop art except in a very minimal manner. There were certain kinds of cross-references, but one thing that the kind of conceptualism that I was really involved with, was also a rejection of basically French art and Duchamp that injected the idea of irony into art that eventually became Pop Art. That was the reason that much of Minimal Art was more derived from Russian Constructivism or Supremacism, that was in a way much more interesting than French art at that time; there was a rejection of French art as well because we thought that abstract expressionism was the last big statement of modernism; you know that,... if you started with Cezanne as a modern art through Picasso, then you get to Dada, Surrealism or Cubism – it all ended up as abstract expressionism. But the seed that really engendered Pop Art was the idea that came – through, say, Johns and Rauschenberg – from Duchamp, and the main ingredient was the idea of irony, and the idea of irony came more or less through both Dada and Surrealism; those were two movements that were completely anathema to those of us who came through minimalism.

S.R.: I was always very strongly struck by that construction that you made I'm not sure if it's really thought like this – like I will tell you now, how I saw it – because I saw this idea with the series or the seriality that built up very evaluated, very clear structures to each other - were a combination of at least two things that you were talking about now, just before; the one thing is that it's – in relation to the hole history of art - a big break in the mind of minimalism, with very clear, very simple structures; to put it in a system. The other thing is – with this seriality and this systematical thinking - it's also containing humour, or fun, or irony – as you called it – because it's playing with all these aspects of – if you see it from this perspective, it is changed, if you see it from the other perspective it's changed. And it's involving the viewer, it's rejecting the viewer in many different ways. I liked always this totally strange construction in the beginning of the 60s.

S.L. The idea was that we all wanted to re-invent art; we thought that art had come to a dead end, that it was the end of something, the end of modern art. All the people that were involved wanted to do something that started from ground zero – Bob Ryman started with white paint. But, for instance, Ryman wasn't involved in the shock-value of the white paintings of Rauschenberg; he wasn't interested in that kind of statement which was in a way a negative statement; he wanted to make a new idea of how to paint paintings. With me, I wanted to start with the most basic kinds of forms; minimalism was really involved in the basic forms, stripping down form to its basic components. The kind of conceptualism that I was involved with started from the idea of these most simple forms possible.


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