April 23, 2007
Legacy of conceptual art pioneer lives on at Emory
by mary catherine johnson
Sol LeWitt, the artist who created “Tower One,” a sculpture comprised of white concrete blocks situated outside of Emory’s White Hall, died on April 8 at the age of 78. LeWitt’s obituary appeared in every major newspaper throughout the world, and his death has inspired numerous tributes, both formal and informal, including an impromptu champagne toast to the artist at 54 Columns in Freedom Park, LeWitt’s only other public sculpture in Atlanta.
Joanna Marsh, curator at the Wadsworth Atheneum in Connecticut, said of LeWitt: “It is not an overstatement to say that he was one of the most influential American artists of the 20th century. His work has had a profound influence on future generations of artists and will continue to have an impact.”
These accolades are given to a man who once explained to a photographer as he covered his face at a museum opening, “I am not Rock Hudson.” LeWitt’s avoidance of anything that would feed his celebrity status was not so much an attempt to be reclusive or mysterious as it was a choice to allow his work to speak for itself, as well as an effort to champion and mentor other artists instead.
Katherine Mitchell, an artist and senior lecturer in the Visual Arts Program at Emory, was a beneficiary of LeWitt’s legendary generosity. When she contacted LeWitt in 1977 for help with her graduate thesis, he replied with a handwritten letter that would be the first of many encouraging postcards and letters to Mitchell, several of which included original drawings.
James Meyer, Winship Distinguished Associate Professor of Art History at Emory, was instrumental in bringing Emory’s LeWitt project to fruition in 2003, working directly with the artist to select a site for the sculpture and spending countless hours eloquently defending the value of the sculpture’s presence on campus.
“Sol LeWitt was a central figure of the minimalist and conceptual movements of the 1960s and 1970s,” said Meyer. “He was one of the key American artists of the late 20th century, and a luminous human being. Emory is extremely fortunate to have acquired ‘Tower One,’ one of the series of concrete block sculptures he began during the 1980s and produced until the end of his life. Hopefully, the presence of this important work will inspire further commissions of public art at Emory.”
The prominent location of “Tower One” on campus is an appropriate corollary to the administration’s vision to elevate Emory’s status as a destination university. LeWitt’s example in his efforts to nurture and celebrate students and emerging artists mirrors the core values that Emory exemplifies.
As future generations study LeWitt’s art, those who have access to Emory’s campus and faculty will have a distinct edge over those who learn about LeWitt solely through images and textbooks. The former will not only be able to view a stellar example of LeWitt’s sculpture, they will also be privy to the stories of those who actually knew the artist and understood the importance of his legacy.