Sol LeWitt, geometrically-inspired sculptor and artist, leader in modern American art, died yesterday (from complications of cancer) in New York at age 78.

Turning down awards, declining interviews and notoriously camera-shy, Lewitt was the opposite of artist-as-celebrity. In a 1980 work called “Autobiography” he took over 1,000 photographs of every inch in his Manhattan loft, documenting everything that happened to him in the course of taking the pictures. Yet he only appears (small and out of focus) in one of these photographs.

Reducing art to basic shapes, lines and colors thus urging the viewer to open their mind - LeWitt helped establish Conceptualism and Minimalism as dominant movements of the postwar era. In 1967 he wrote an article in Artforum, stating “Conceptual art is not necessarily logical. The ideas need not be complex. Most ideas that are successful are ludicrously simple. Successful ideas generally have the appearance of simplicity because they seem inevitable.”

LeWitt moved to New York in 1953 and had a variety of short-term jobs, including night receptionist at the Museum of Modern Art. His first solo art show was at the John Daniels Gallery in 1965 and his first wall drawing, part of a 1968 display, moved the gallery owner so much that she couldn't bear to paint over it and insisted LeWitt do it himself, which he did without hesitating.

Photo of Sol LeWitt's Splotch #3 on top of the Met.