BENJAMIN GENOCCHIO: The New York Times: LeWitt the Collector, Filling up a Warehouse: Thursday January 1, 2004
Sol LeWitt’s artworks are minimal and precise, but this art collection is vast and unruly. He says he does not even know how many works he has, or what they are worth.
Mr. LeWitt, 75, started collecting stamps when he was 9 and later, as a soldier stationed in Japan during the Korean War, collected woodblock prints. Since then he and his wife, Carol, have acquired nearly 9,000 works of art through purchases, in trades with other artists, or as gifts. Most are kept in a warehouse in Chester, Conn., from which they are loaned to museums and galleries all over the world. Works are now on loan to more than a dozen exhibitions in six countries.
“It never occurred tome to collect on this scale,” Mr. LeWitt said in the warehouse as he walked past rows of meal shelving cluttered with objects. “But since we never get rid of anything, it just accumulated.”
Mr. LeWitt, a leader of the Conceptual Art movement, first traded artworks with other artists in the early 1960’s. “They were mostly one-to-ones trades with whomever I knew,” he said, “and weren’t done for monetary value at all. Besides, the works weren’t expensive back then.”
In this way he acquired works by Eva Hesse, On kawara, Dan Flavin, Donald Judd, Carl Andre, Dan Graham, Hans Haacke, Robert, Ryman and others. Mr. LeWitt also began trading with art dealers.
“When I began showing in Germany, England, and Italy, some dealers were in bad financial shape.” He said. “Instead of paying, they used to offer me the work of other artists in the gallery. This way I got pieces by Richard Long, Hamish Fulton, Douglas Huelbler, John Baldessari, Hanne Darboven, Daniel Buren and many other artists not so well know now.
In the late ‘60’s, living in New York, Mr. LeWitt continued to accumulate art. Again it was mostly through trades, and mostly work by people he knew.
“The collection provides an encyclopedic survey of the major artists and movements of the last 50 years with an emphasis on Conceptual Art and artists worldwide,” said Douglas Hyland, director of the New Britain Museum of American Art in Connecticut and co-curator of a recent exhibition of works from the collection.
Mr. LeWitt also collects furniture, which is stored on a row of file cabinets along one wall of the warehouse. Nearby, on shelves, is his collection of several thousand art books and catalogs. Further along is an area with offices for the collection staff (six part-time workers) and storage for the photographs, print collection and archival material, including thousands of his drawings, and maquettes for his sculptures, some of which are on display through Feb. 18 at the Maiden Lane Exhibition Space in Manhattan.
Carol LeWitt shares her husband’s passion for the art but not his passion for accumulation.
“Sol seems to experience things through collecting them,” she said. “And it’s not just art, but books, music, and papers of all kinds. Every time he goes to New York he comes back with bags of books and music. He’s the kind of person who needs a lot of information around him all the time.”
Mr. LeWitt’s art collection breaks down in to five main areas: Arte Povera, early Conceptual Art, English and European sculpture, vintage photography and Minimal and Conceptual graphics. And then there are ancillary things like a collection of decorative arts, the furniture (including several original early pieces by Josef Hoffmann) and aboriginal paintings.
Mr. LeWitt is a wary of picking favorites but mentions an original wall item from Claes Oldenburg’s shop like environment, “The Store,” on New York’s Lower East Side in 1961, filled with misshapen, paint-dripped objects for sale. On, loan the work is in an exhibition at Peter Freeman Inc. in SoHo through Jan. 10. “I didn’t get it from then, but traded for it with Oldenburg later on,” he said. “I gave him an open cube piece that hung from the ceiling. He has it hanging in his home in New York.”
Some works in the collection are very valuable, including one of Gerhard Richter’s paintings of a candle against a gray green interior. Last year a nearly identical painting sold at Sotheby’s in New York for almost $4 million.
“I have no interest in knowing what even the slightest value of any of these things is,” said Mr. LeWitt, who noted that none of the works were insured. “We’ve never sold a thing and wouldn’t dream of getting rid of any of it. A lot of it will go to an institution eventually, but we don’t want to make a decision about what to do with it just yet.”
Meanwhile, the Wadsworth Atheneum in Hartford periodically borrows works for shows, as does the Fogg Art Museum at Harvard, the New Britain Museum of Art and several others around New England.
“We try to get the stuff out as much as possible,” Mr. LeWitt said, “as it’s not doing anyone any good sitting in this warehouse.