Farrar, Straus and Giroux announced that it has purchased the first authorized biography on Sol LeWitt, a pioneer of the movements of conceptualism and minimalism, titled Sol LeWitt: A Life of Ideas, by Lary Bloom. While there has been a tremendous amount of documentation of the work of LeWitt, an artist known for his geometric sculptures and drawings, the story of his life has yet to be told. “I don’t think anyone has had the access that this author will have,” said Alexander Star, senior editor at FSG, who struck the deal.
Mr. Bloom, the author, knew LeWitt in the last decades of his life (the artist died in 2007) as they both resided in Chester, Conn. Mr. Bloom still lives there, as does LeWitt’s widow Carol. Mr. Bloom recalled dropping in on LeWitt from time to time to see what he was working on. “I’d really like to try to document how he did what he did,” Mr. Bloom told us.
Toward this end, Mr. Bloom has already interviewed many key sources in LeWitt’s story, including Chuck Close, Pat Steir, Carl Andre, Dorothy Vogel and the late Herb Vogel. He plans to speak to over 200 people. Carol LeWitt has granted him access to the personal archives of LeWitt, which include the postcards LeWitt was famed for—sent to friends from his travels, he would adorn them with geometric shapes and line drawings—and materials from various archives including museums like the Wadsworth Atheneum Museum of Art.
Mr. Bloom is something of an unusual choice since he is not an art writer, an art historian or a critic. Over the past dozen years, he’s written several hefty non-fiction books, like The Test of Our Times, which is the story of first U.S. Secretary of Homeland Security Tom Ridge after 9/11, and a book on the Nuremberg trials, Letters from Nuremberg: My Father’s Narrative of a Quest for Justice, a joint project with Senator Christopher J. Dodd. For the latter work, he said, he ordered so many books on the Nazis that he was sure the FBI was going to knock at his door. “I’ve had to learn about cybersecurity. I’ve had to learn about Anthrax,” Mr. Bloom said about the research for his earlier books. “I did a book on rocket science. What the hell do I know about rocket science?” But it’s an approach that’s worked and one he’ll be taking with the LeWitt book.
In an effort to guide his research, Jock Reynolds, the director of the Yale University Art Gallery, has signed on as an advisor. “Jock is playing an important role in this book,” said Lorin Rees, Mr. Bloom’s literary agent. “There was concern that if the book was written by an art historian, or art critic or writer that it would be gobbledygook and incomprehensible, like a catalog, of which there are plenty. So there was attention placed on finding a writer to really tell a great story.”
And Mr. Bloom, for the record, isn’t quite an art world rube. He started his career as an editor of Sunday magazines where he first became familiar with LeWitt and his peers.
“I used to fly in because I heard about interesting stuff happening in Soho,” Mr. Bloom said, recalling his fascination with the art scene in the early ’70s, when he edited a magazine in Akron, Ohio. He would not meet LeWitt until much later. In 1979, as the editor of Tropic, the Sunday magazine of The Miami Herald, Mr. Bloom was involved in commissioning Piece for Tropic, a set of 650,000 prints by Robert Rauschenberg (“the largest ever lithograph edition” said Mr. Bloom), which was delivered to every subscriber of The Miami Herald, roughly 150 of which were signed. He said art world insiders were calling up trying to get prints, but the point was to have them get in the hands of people who might not know who Rauschenberg was.
“In a way it was a metaphor for this project,” said Mr. Bloom, “Rauschenberg of course even then was a huge name. But if you go to households in America, they’re more likely to talk about a football player or a baseball player or a rock star. I suppose it’s my job to cross boundaries.”
And yet it was baseball that brought Mr. Bloom and LeWitt together. “We were both the only people in this part of the world who were die-hard Cleveland Indians fans,” he said. “Sol was a Cleveland Indians fan because when he was growing up he was the ultimate outsider. I began to see this book as the outsider book. As a kid, he was an outsider. Every kid in the neighborhood was a Yankees or a Red Sox fan, and he was going to be different. This is how he thought his whole life.”