Sol LeWitt's Complex Relatiomship With Hartford
In a recently released biography on Sol LeWitt — a Hartford-born, New Britain-raised artist who was a 20th century master of minimalism and conceptual art — Connecticut author and LeWitt friend Lary Bloom recounts in dramatic detail the surprise 70th birthday party held in 1998 at Hartford’s Wadsworth Atheneum Museum of Art, when “stunned guests watched as the guest of honor did all he could to ruin the party.”
But more on that party later. First some perspective on the man who redefined the role of the artist with his belief that “the work of the mind is more important than the work of the hand.”
LeWitt’s practice was based primarily within his own intellect, establishing formal instructions that assistants followed to create his works.
“As art historians have said there have been two great artists who have come out of Hartford: [19th century landscape painter] Frederic Church and Sol LeWitt,” says Bloom, author of “Sol LeWitt: A Life of Ideas," Wesleyan University Press. (LeWitt died in 2007 at the age of 78).
But LeWitt, who loathed the personal spotlight, had a complex relationship with a city that had once rejected its native son.
In 1980, LeWitt was commissioned to create a wall piece for the former Hartford Civic Center, which was being rebuilt after its roof collapsed two years earlier. Public reaction to the proposed work was not kind.
“You have to remember the context of the times,” says Bloom, who was editor of The Courant’s former Northeast Sunday magazine starting in the early ‘80s.
“This followed Carl Andre’s 1977 ‘Stone Field Sculpture’ — which most people simply call “The Rocks” — and the derision that work of art received, though not a penny of it came from public funds,” says Bloom. And then there was Mayor George Athanson’s hostile reaction to Alexander Calder’s bright orange ‘Stegosaurus’ sculpture in Burr Mall.