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Artists Robert Morris
Robert Morris Photo

Robert Morris

American Sculptor and Performance Artist

Movement: Minimalism

Born: February 9, 1931 - Kansas City, Missouri

Robert Morris Timeline

Quotes

"Have I reasons? The answer is my reasons will soon give out. And then I shall act, without reasons."
Robert Morris
"There's information and there's the object; there's the sensing of it; there's the thinking that connects to process. It's on different levels. And I like using those different levels."
Robert Morris
"I've been interested in memory and forgetting, fragments and wholes, theories and biographies, disasters and absurdities, and drawing but not dancing in the dark."
Robert Morris
"So long as the form (in the broadest possible sense: situation) is not reduced beyond perception, so long as it perpetuates and upholds itself as being in the subject's field of vision, the subject reacts to it in many particular ways when I call it art. He reacts in other ways when I do not call it art. Art is primarily a situation in which one assumes an attitude of reacting to some of one's awareness as art..."
Robert Morris
"No to transcendence and spiritual values, heroic scale, anguished decisions, historicizing narrative, valuable artifact, intelligent structure, interesting visual experience."
Robert Morris

"Simplicity of shape does not necessarily equate with simplicity of experience."

Robert Morris Signature

Synopsis

Robert Morris was one of the central figures of Minimalism. Through both his own sculptures of the 1960s and theoretical writings, Morris set forth a vision of art pared down to simple geometric shapes stripped of metaphorical associations, and focused on the artwork's interaction with the viewer. However, in contrast to fellow Minimalists Donald Judd and Carl Andre, Morris had a strikingly diverse range that extended well beyond the Minimalist ethos and was at the forefront of other contemporary American art movements as well, most notably, Process art and Land art. Through both his artwork and his critical writings, Morris explored new notions of chance, temporality, and ephemerality.

Key Ideas

In the mid-1960s, Morris created some of the key exemplars of Minimalist sculpture: enormous, repeated geometric forms, such as cubes and rectangular beams devoid of figuration, surface texture, or expressive content. These works forced the viewer to consider the arrangement and scale of the forms themselves, and how perception shifted as one moved around them, which was a central preoccupation of Minimalism.
Morris's 1966 essay "Notes on Sculpture" was among the first to articulate the experiential basis of Minimalist artwork. It called for the use of simple forms, such as polyhedrons, which could be grasped intuitively by the viewer. and also described Minimalist sculptures as dependent on the context and conditions in which they were perceived, essentially upending the notion of the artwork as independent in and of itself.
In the late 1960s, Morris began introducing indeterminacy and temporality into the artistic process, referred to as Process art or Anti-Form. By cutting, dropping, or stacking everyday materials such as felt or rags, Morris emphasized the ephemeral nature of the artwork, which would ultimately change every time it was installed in a new space. This replaced what Morris posited as the fixed, static nature of Minimalist, or "object-type," art.

Biography

Robert Morris Photo

Childhood

Robert Morris grew up in a suburban area of Kansas City. Early in life, he began reproducing comic strip images, a habit that helped him discover a talent for drawing. A flexible outlook at his elementary school allowed him to spend additional time honing his artistic skills. He also participated in a weekend enrichment program that encouraged the students to sketch artwork in the local Nelson Gallery (now the Nelson Atkins Museum of Art) and draw at the art studios of the Kansas City Art Institute.

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Robert Morris Biography Continues

Important Art by Robert Morris

The below artworks are the most important by Robert Morris - that both overview the major creative periods, and highlight the greatest achievements by the artist.

Box with the Sound of Its Own Making (1961)
Artwork Images

Box with the Sound of Its Own Making (1961)

Artwork description & Analysis: As its title indicates, Morris's Box with the Sound of Its Own Making consists of an unadorned wooden cube, accompanied by a recording of the sounds produced during its construction. Lasting for three-and-a-half hours, the audio component of the piece denies the air of romantic mystery surrounding the creation of the art object, presenting it as a time-consuming and perhaps even tedious endeavor. In so doing, the piece also combines the resulting artwork with the process of artmaking, transferring the focus from one to the other. Fittingly, the first person in New York Morris invited to see the piece was John Cage-whose silent 1952 composition 4'33" is famously composed of the sounds heard in the background while it is being performed. Cage was reportedly transfixed by Box with the Sound of Its Own Making, as Morris later recalled: "When Cage came, I turned it on... and he wouldn't listen to me. He sat and listened to it for three hours and that was really impressive to me. He just sat there."

Walnut and recorded audio tapes (original) and compact disc (reformatted by artist) - Seattle Art Museum, gift of Mr. and Mrs. Bagley Wright

Site (1964)
Artwork Images

Site (1964)

Artwork description & Analysis: Dance has occupied an important aspect of Morris's oeuvre, involving the artist's creation of rudimentary, box-like props that anticipated his Minimalist objects and concern with viewer interaction. In the 1960s, the artist choreographed and performed a number of works for the New York-based collective known as the Judson Dance Theater, including Site. In the piece, first performed at the Surplus Dance Theater with the visual artist Carolee Schneemann, Morris, wearing a mask of his own face, systematically carried away four-by-eight foot sheets of plywood to reveal a nude Schneemann emulating Edouard Manet's Olympia (1863). Morris maneuvered the boards around the stage, until finally using them to again conceal Schneemann, all the while the sound of a jackhammer played repeatedly in the background. Site recalls Box with the Sound of Its Own Making through its use of an audio recording and focus on the banal (de)construction of a wooden structure, but here the situation is more complex and ambiguous; it is unclear whether the anonymous masked Morris or the nude Schneemann, whose pale skin and white backdrop discourage attention, is the focal point of the performance-an ambiguity that prompts the viewer to consider the relative importance of the artistic process versus the resulting artwork itself.

Untitled (L-Beams) (1965)
Artwork Images

Untitled (L-Beams) (1965)

Artwork description & Analysis: One of Morris's best-known Minimalist pieces, Untitled (L-Beams) lacks any texture, trace of the artist's hand or figural content that would otherwise distract the viewer from pure engagement with the arranged forms. The work is composed of three L-shaped forms identical in every way, but positioned differently - one lying on its side, another resting on two edges, and the third standing erect. The forms' configuration causes them to be perceived as varying in size and shape. Morris's concern with the experiential aspect of the piece is revealed in his use of polyhedrons - three-dimensional solids with flat faces and straight edges whose forms and shapes could be readily grasped by the viewer. It also underpinned his instructions that the work be arranged differently each time it was to be exhibited so that viewers would experience the work differently as well.

Stainless steel - Whitney Museum of American Art

More Robert Morris Artwork and Analysis:

Untitled (Pink Felt) (1970) Advertisement for Castelli-Sonnabend Exhibition (1974) Steam Work for Bellingham-II (1974)


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Influences and Connections

Influences on Artist
Artists, Friends, Movements
Influenced by Artist
Artists, Friends, Movements
Robert Morris
Interactive chart with Robert Morris's main influences, and the people and ideas that the artist influenced in turn.
View Influences Chart

Artists

Marcel DuchampMarcel Duchamp
Jackson PollockJackson Pollock

Personal Contacts

Simone FortiSimone Forti
Donald JuddDonald Judd
Yvonne RainerYvonne Rainer

Movements

Abstract ExpressionismAbstract Expressionism
DadaDada

Influences on Artist
Robert Morris
Robert Morris
Years Worked: 1960 - Present
Influenced by Artist

Artists

Felix Gonzalez-TorresFelix Gonzalez-Torres
Barry Le VaBarry Le Va
Bruce NaumanBruce Nauman

Personal Contacts

Richard BellamyRichard Bellamy
Leo CastelliLeo Castelli
Rosalind KraussRosalind Krauss

Movements

MinimalismMinimalism
Post-MinimalismPost-Minimalism
Process ArtProcess Art

Useful Resources on Robert Morris

Videos

Books

Articles

More

The books and articles below constitute a bibliography of the sources used in the writing of this page. These also suggest some accessible resources for further research, especially ones that can be found and purchased via the internet.

artwork

Robert Morris (Charta Focus series)

By Robert Morris, Vittorio Urbani

Robert Morris and Angst

By Nena Tsouti-Schillinger

Robert Morris at the Samuel Dorsky Museum of Art

More Interesting Books about Robert Morris
Tate Modern Perfects the Art of Living Dangerously

By Ben Quinn
The Guardian
July 12, 2009

Robert Morris's 'Bodyspacemotionthings' at the Tate Modern

By Mark Hudson
The Telegraph
May 26, 2009

A Robert Morris Tour of Contemporary History Recomended resource

By Roberta Smith
The New York Times
February 4, 1994

Robert Morris: the More Things Change, the More They Stay the Same

By Alan Artner
Chicago Tribune
March 9, 1986

More Interesting Articles about Robert Morris

transcripts

Golden Memories: Interview by W. J. T. Mitchell

ArtForum
April 1994

Interview by Simon Grant

Photos and discussion of works
May 1, 2009

Interview by Paul Cummings

The Archives of American Art
March 10, 1968

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Cite this page

Content compiled and written by Tracee Ng

Edited and published by The Art Story Contributors

" Artist Overview and Analysis". [Internet]. . TheArtStory.org
Content compiled and written by Tracee Ng
Edited and published by The Art Story Contributors
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