Analysis of Sol LeWitt's Art Process

The role of process in the art of the 1950s and 1960s was more pronounced than that of previous art movements because of how it not only influenced the rendition of artwork but also became a key part of its experience for the artist and viewer. The art of this period exhibits evidence of both learning and diverging from the past in its consideration of what constituted art through composition, creation, and user experience. In this move towards Minimalism and Conceptual Art, there are semblances to the precedents set forth by Cubism and Constructivism, as well as International Style architecture.[1] Nevertheless, it looked to the fundamentals in just about every aspect: the basic elements of the natural and man-made world, materials beyond the typical media used in the art of the past, and exploring their manipulation and natural inclinations, all of which contribute to the process. Allowing the process to be the driving force behind a work of art gave this time period both newfound challenges, yet fascinating opportunities to exhibit in unconventional venues and engage spectators in ways that had never before been possible.

Link to image of referenced artwork: https://www.moma.org/collection/works/81259

Artist Sol LeWitt and his All Three-Part Variations of Three Different Kind of Cubes exemplify the role of process and its divergence from predecessors. The minimalist sculpture explores variations founded in the basic building blocks of three steel cubes, each with their own variations in the number of sides. The cubes and their combinatoric arrayed configurations define "a decisional procedure for generating the final form of the work as a permutational system," and in doing so, become the pronounced process and focal point of the art.[2]  LeWitt empowered a mundane primitive to elevate itself using elementary concepts and logic, therefore guiding its the system's final form through self-creation. This approach is quite different from those of previous eras because the artist's focus is on the system and its elements, not its resultant form or even visual aesthetic. The end result is a natural course of action for the encapsulated system and process, particularly since there is a finite number of combinations, as is the case for the potential placement of the three cubes. An interview with LeWitt further supports this avant-garde initiative in his statement that "the system is the work of art; the visual work of art is the proof of the system."[3]  As such, viewers are given the opportunity to perceive the process of structuring the system validated by the work's physical manifestation.

The materials and methods used in the art that emerged from these processes also diversified the way that the art is exhibited compared to many previous art forms. Even though many of LeWitt's other works conform to drawings and paintings, this particular sculpture of stacked cubes is a three-dimensional installation that strays from the typical two-dimensional surface of a wall, and as with other sculptural forms, they have very unique requirements and protocol for location and placement. Not only does the exhibit strive to give each spectator the opportunity to envision or experience the process through some form of multisensory interactivity, but the physical act of setting up the installation further pronounces the process. In many cases, it is the artist implementing the setup, but it may also involve the participation of others guided by the artist's instructions, which in turn creates a unique opportunity for others to be involved in the process. For example, the setup of LeWitt's Glossy and Flat Black installation at the Rice University Art Gallery in 2017 involved six art students who "experienced firsthand the meticulous craftsmanship that goes into such a work while developing their own specific physical relationship to it."[4]  Through the participation of others in the installation's setup, its process is reborn by means of new perspectives. So even over the course of time and into the future, the process embedded in the art of the 1950s and 1960s continues to resonate as its self-realization. 

Citations

[1] "Sol LeWitt," MoMA, no. 5 (1978): 1.

[2] Adrian Piper, "The Logic of Modernism: How Greenberg Stole the Americans Away from a Tradition of Euroethnic Social Content," Flash Art International 51, no. 319 (March/April 2018): 54.

[3] Saul Ostrow & Sol LeWitt, "Sol LeWitt," BOMB, no. 85 (2003): 25.

[4] Sandra Zalman, "Sol LeWitt: Glossy and Flat Black Squares," CAA Reviews (March 2018): 3-4.