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Minimalism Collage


Started: Early 1960s
Ended: Late 1960s
Minimalism Timeline
"A shape, a volume, a color, a surface is something itself. It shouldn't be concealed as part of a fairly different whole."
1 of 9
Donald Judd Signature
"When words such as painting and sculpture are used, they connote a whole tradition and imply a consequent acceptance of this tradition, thus placing limitations on the artist who would be reluctant to make art that goes beyond the limitations."
2 of 9
Sol LeWitt Signature
"Making art is complicated because the categories are always changing. You just have to make your own art, and whatever categories it falls into will come later."
3 of 9
Frank Stella Signature
"I consider space to be a material. The articulation of space has come to take precedence over other concerns. I attempt to use sculptural form to make space distinct."
4 of 9
Richard Serra Signature
"As I have said many times, for me an artist is a person who says he's an artist, and an artwork is what an artist says is an artwork."
5 of 9
Carl Andre Signature
"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."
6 of 9
Robert Morris Signature
"No to transcendence and spiritual values, heroic scale, anguished decisions, historicizing narrative, valuable artifact, intelligent structure, interesting visual experience."
7 of 9
Robert Morris Signature
"The steel and the space, or the object and the void, become one and the same."
8 of 9
Richard Serra Signature
"I like art as thought better than art as work. I've always maintained this. It's important to me that I don't get my hands dirty. It's not because I'm instinctively lazy. It's a declaration: art is thought."
9 of 9
Dan Flavin Signature

Summary of Minimalism

Minimalism emerged in New York in the early 1960s among artists who were self-consciously renouncing recent art they thought had become stale and academic. A wave of new influences and rediscovered styles led younger artists to question conventional boundaries between various media. The new art favored the cool over the "dramatic": their sculptures were frequently fabricated from industrial materials and emphasized anonymity over the expressive excess of Abstract Expressionism. Painters and sculptors avoided overt symbolism and emotional content, but instead called attention to the materiality of the works. By the end of the 1970s, Minimalism had triumphed in America and Europe through a combination of forces including museum curators, art dealers, and publications, plus new systems of private and government patronage. And members of a new movement, Post-Minimalism, were already challenging its authority and were thus a testament to how important Minimalism itself became.

Key Ideas & Accomplishments

  • Minimalists distanced themselves from the Abstract Expressionists by removing suggestions of biography from their art or, indeed, metaphors of any kind. This denial of expression coupled with an interest in making objects that avoided the appearance of fine art led to the creation of sleek, geometric works that purposefully and radically eschew conventional aesthetic appeal.
  • The post-Sputnik era revived active interest in Russian Constructivism. The Constructivist approach led to the use of modular fabrication and industrial materials in preference to the craft techniques of traditional sculpture. The readymades of Marcel Duchamp were also inspirational examples of the employment of prefabricated materials. Based on these sources, Minimalists created works that resembled factory-built commodities and upended traditional definitions of art whose meaning was tied to a narrative or to the artist.
  • The use of prefabricated industrial materials and simple, often repeated geometric forms together with the emphasis placed on the physical space occupied by the artwork led to some works that forced the viewer to confront the arrangement and scale of the forms. Viewers also were led to experience qualities of weight, height, gravity, agility or even the appearance of light as a material presence. They were often faced with artworks that demanded a physical as well as a visual response.
  • Minimalists sought to break down traditional notions of sculpture and to erase distinctions between painting and sculpture. In particular, they rejected the formalist dogma espoused by the critic Clement Greenberg that placed limitations on the art of painting and privileged artists who seemed to paint under his direction. The Minimalists' more democratic point of view was set out in writings as well as exhibitions by their leaders Sol LeWitt, Donald Judd, and Robert Morris.

Overview of Minimalism

Photograph of museum visitor in front of Frank Stella's <i>The Marriage of Reason and Squalor, II</i> (1959)

Having finished his undergraduate degree at Princeton, Frank Stella moved to New York where he worked as a house painter to pay his rent. He used commercial paint bought at a dollar per gallon with simple painter brushes to create his Black Paintings (1958-60), which made him famous when he was just 23. The works were foundational in the development of Minimalism, as his statement, "What you see is what you see," became the movement's mantra.

Artworks and Artists of Minimalism

Progression of Art

Die Fahne Hoch!

Artist: Frank Stella

Unquestionably a key monument in modern art, this work, one of the series of Black Paintings done by Frank Stella, is a bold counter-movement against the eminent Abstract Expressionist painters. It is a monochrome rectangular painting on a heavy chassis projecting from the wall into surrounding space as if urging the viewer to move back. Magnetized, the viewer is drawn closer seeking to read the pattern of pinstripes on the surface. These stripes are in fact the raw canvas revealed between broad black stripes painted with few visible brushstrokes. The painting is an unframed, flat abstraction and would appear to be meaningless except for its title: Die Fahne Hoch! (Raise High the Flag!), the opening words of the Nazi anthem. Stella has denied any political connection, and one could possibly see the title as a wave to Jasper Johns, whose American flag paintings of 1954-55 were met with praise by his critics, but also a general public bewilderment.

Stella challenged the traditional dichotomy between painting and sculpture that was championed by Clement Greenberg and other modernists, particularly those associated with Abstract Expressionism. In particular, Greenberg felt that each medium and, indeed, each art form should be pure with no overlap with other media, an idea that is directly disputed by Stella's canvas/object and most Minimalists.

Scholars have read the title as an example of Minimalists' often-in-your-face aesthetics and their refusal to make works that are visually appealing, instead forcing the viewer to confront works on a physical level as a way of disputing the conventional relationship between the viewer and the work of art in which the viewer simply appreciates or admires the visual appeal of a work.

Enamel on canvas - Whitney Museum of American Art



Artist: Tony Smith

The artist's specifications for the sculpture were as follows: "a six-foot cube of quarter-inch hot-rolled steel with diagonal internal bracing." The dimensions were determined, according to Tony Smith, by the proportions of the human body. Smith explained that a larger scale would have endowed Die with the stature of a "monument," while a smaller one would have reduced it to a mere "object." Weighing approximately 500 pounds and resting on the museum floor, the sculpture invites us to walk around it and experience it sequentially, one or two sides at a time. Like other examples of Minimalism, its unreadable surface and frank lack of visual appeal come across as almost hostile in its undermining of traditional understandings of art as something aesthetically or emotionally appealing, showing the artist's rejection of Abstraction Expressionism's hands-on approach to art making.

The sculpture's deceptively simple title invites multiple associations: it alludes to die casting, to one of a pair of dice, and, ultimately, to death. As Smith remarked, "Six feet has a suggestion of being cooked. Six foot box. Six foot under." Rationality, evoked by Die's purely geometric configuration, is countered by the sculpture's brooding presence. Meaning becomes relative rather than absolute, something generated through the interplay of word and object. Weaving together strains of architecture, industrial manufacture, and the found object, Smith radically transformed the way sculpture could look, how it could be made, and, ultimately, how it could be understood.

Steel - The National Gallery of Art, Washington DC



Artist: Carl Andre

Carl Andre's Lever was the most audacious entry at the 1966 Primary Structures exhibition that introduced the public to Minimalism. This row of 137 firebricks aligned to project out from the wall and straight across the floor was likened by Andre to a fallen column. Lever startled gallery visitors, interrupted their movement and, in its simplicity, was annoying. Made from easily available building materials ("anyone could do it: where was the art?"), Lever demanded respect from thoughtful viewers while undermining traditional artistic values. Such provocations became routine for Andre: "my ambition as an artist is to be the 'Turner of matter.' As Turner severed color from depiction, so I attempt to sever matter from depiction." He went on to describe wood as the "mother of matter" and praised bricklayers as "people of fine craft."

In this way, Andre's Lever along with many Minimalist works challenged how art was situated in the gallery and how viewers interacted with it. Art no longer was hung discreetly on the wall or placed on a pedestal in the corner as something to enjoy in a purely visual way. It now required a more complex and thoughtful interaction from the viewer. This piece is made of nontraditional materials that call to mind industrial or building materials that require no manipulation from the hand of the artist. While the work is nonrepresentational, the title is suggestive of manual labor.

Fireplace bricks - Collection of the Artist


Untitled (mirrored cubes)

Artist: Robert Morris

This group of four mirrored cubes illustrates the artist's development as both a Conceptual artist and a Minimalist over a five-year period. Robert Morris began by producing large grey painted plywood boxes that were first used as stage props for a ballet company where he also performed. Their regular geometry and inexpressive surfaces allied his art with the developing Minimalist style, winning him both a solo exhibition and a slot in the landmark 1966 Primary Structures show. By that time Morris had achieved the status of a spokesman for the group with a series of academic essays on sculpture published in Artforum, which were widely debated.

These mirrored cubes advanced his interest in the visual properties of materials and modes of perception. The fact that Morris covers his cubes in mirrors forces the viewers to confront themselves in the act of looking rather than simply and placidly admiring the work of art. The size of the piece is roughly the height of a table or countertop, so, like Carl Andre, Morris offers the viewer a kinesthetic or somatic experience that is also outside the traditional art experience. It is this invasion of the center of the gallery space by an object and the concomitant evolving of the art experience beyond the purely visual that led Micheal Fried to call the movement "theatrical."

Mirrored wooden boxes - Collection of the Tate, United Kingdom



Artist: Donald Judd

Judd was an important theoretician for Minimalism and one of the key proponents of enlivening gallery spaces by placing objects in a non-conventional manner, in his case by hanging art vertically on the wall. Throughout the 1960s and 1970s, Judd created multiple versions of this untitled work, always retaining the same scale but never using the same color or materials. He wanted his work to exist in real three-dimensional space rather than representing a fictive three-dimensional space or narrative as in traditional painting and sculpture. Referring to his sculptures as "primary structures," he discarded conventional elements of sculpture (the plinth, the figure, etc.), and instead created objects that, although oddly cold, everyday, and industrial in appearance, emphasize the upright in a way that strongly suggests a repetition of the observer's own body. Though they hang on the wall like a painting, they extend from the wall like a sculpture, thus challenging traditional distinctions between these two media. Judd's use of prefabricated industrial materials in repeated identical shapes reference factory-built commodities and the materiality of the media, while also underscoring the Minimalist goal of reducing the visible hand of the artist in order to free the work of any emotion or referentiality, something that is further underscored by the work's lack of a title.

Brass and colored fluorescent Plexiglas on steel brackets - Hirshhorn Museum and Sculpture Garden, Washington DC


One Ton Prop (House of Cards)

Artist: Richard Serra

Minimalist works were often larger than life and, especially in the case of Serra, sometimes pushed boundaries in ways that conveyed a sense of risk to the viewer. While this piece offers the viewer yet another cube, it is a cube that has been deconstructed. The four sides are propped against one another and are only held together by their own weight and resistance. Considering that each of the four plates weighs 500 pounds, the parenthetical title "house of cards" is fairly ironic while also suggesting the possibility that the four sides could easily collapse like a house of cards. The size of the work and its seeming instability could thus be seen as vaguely threatening for the viewer. In typical Minimalist fashion, the work is made of starkly industrial materials that show no manipulation from the hand of the artist. The work is placed in the center of a gallery space that invites the viewer to walk around it, something which yields no further enlightenment about its meaning or any additional visual appeal, as the work is uniform on all sides.

Lead antinomy - The Museum of Modern Art, New York

Sol LeWitt: White Cubes (1991)

White Cubes

Artist: Sol LeWitt

LeWitt was a key intellectual of the Minimalist group and is most known for his open-air, modular structures. He once wrote that "the most interesting characteristic of the cube is that it is relatively uninteresting." This comment speaks to what Minimalist artists aimed to achieve, which was to use objects in and for themselves, not as symbols or as representations of something else (as Frank Stella put it on another occasion: "What you see is what you see."). This lack of meaning is especially the case in works that remain untitled or that have purely descriptive titles, as do LeWitt's. Despite claiming the cube as uninteresting in itself, LeWitt would most often use this form as a jumping off point for his works, often employing them in a grid-like format that underscores his interest in systems and modules that could be repeated and expanded indefinitely, sometimes to the point of irrationality or visual chaos. The modularity, absence of color, and geometric starkness of his pieces all fit within the Minimalist aesthetic.

Enameled aluminum - Frankfurt/Main, Gallus-Anlage 7, Germany


The X

Artist: Ronald Bladen

Bladen was older than the other Minimalists and is sometimes considered a father figure for the movement. This work is typical of his output, which is characterized by large-scale sculptures that are often monochromatic and made up of simple shapes, much like the works of other artists in the group. Bladen's works differ slightly at times from more mainstream Minimalism, as his pieces frequently moved beyond basic geometric shapes that were most often used by others in the group. The finish on the works was, however, typically slick, retaining a factory-made quality that erased the hand of the artist, thus setting the work apart from AbEx and modernism. The "X" is an inherently negative symbol, as the letter is used to eliminate or "x things out." Its use here, along with the choice of monochrome black as a color, suggests the negation of traditional art, while its imposing size (24 feet) towers over the viewer to an even greater extent than works by Serra, something which is more evident in a gallery or museum setting.

Painted Aluminum - Estate of the Artist


Untitled (in honor of Harold Joachim) 3

Artist: Dan Flavin

Flavin's works differ in some ways from those of other Minimalists, who shared the same interests in prefabricated materials, transforming the traditional viewing experience, and honoring the influence of Russian Constructivism in their use of repetitive, modular forms. In Flavin's work, however, the work of art is not comprised of the material itself, in this case the fluorescent light fixtures and colored tubes, but is instead the shape and color of the light emitted by the tubes. Flavin literally sculpts and defines spaces with colored light, creating a completely new form of art that is most notable for its lack of materiality, yet seemingly solid presence that almost appears to invade the viewer's space.

He used only prefabricated commercially available tubes in their standard sizes, thus eliminating the hand of the artist, but he would often arrange the fixtures to create various shapes. In this example, the fixtures are placed to form a grid, a traditional Minimalist shape because of its strict geometry and mathematical precision. The work is dedicated to Harold Joachim, a British idealist philosopher of the early-20th century, who studied truth and specifically how humans arrive at their knowledge or truth claims. By naming the work after Joachim, Flavin may be making an argument for the essential truth-value of his art and for his art as the pared down essence of art.

Fluorescent light fixtures and tubes - Collection of the Artist

Beginnings of Minimalism

Early Modernist Inspirations

In New York City in the mid 1950s, young artists like Donald Judd, Robert Morris, and Dan Flavin were painting in the dominant Abstract Expressionist vein but were drifting from it toward new directions inspired by a freshened knowledge of recent European art. Works by members of the Dutch De Stijl group, the Russian Constructivists, and the German Bauhaus were shown in New York City museums and galleries. All three groups had pioneered new definitions of the visual arts by going far beyond traditional painting and sculpture.

Piet Mondrian, a central proponent of De Stijl, adopted pure abstraction and promoted a dynamic tension across the canvas surface and emphasized the flatness of the picture plane. No longer would a painting pretend to be a window to another world. The Homage to the Square paintings (1949-76) of Josef Albers, a former teacher at the Bauhaus, used arrangements of squares within squares in which pictorial depth was an illusion based on color contrasts of the squares. Vladimir Tatlin led the creation of a new art in Russia that would synthesize art and technology in the Machine Age that had come to his country. A utopian idealist more than a revolutionary, he wanted to bring art to the service of everyday life.

In 1918, Constantin Brancusi conceived a sculpture of regular, proto-minimalist shapes calling it <i>Endless Column</i>. Photo of 1938 monument built in Romania

Among sculptors, the Romanian Constantin Brancusi was also a proto-Minimalist. His The Endless Column (1935), a tower of identical rhomboid shapes pointing to infinity represented his cosmic spiritual beliefs and aspirations for his art by demonstrating how simple shapes in multiples could extend ideas of form in space. And Marcel Duchamp's career would lead to a redefinition of the artist's persona and relationship to art making. With sophisticated wit he condemned the "retinal pleasures" of painting and within his practice combined painting, kinetic and static sculpture, photography, and film.

Art at Mid-Century: Late Modernism

These early influences gave artists the opportunity to reassess the Surrealist-influenced world of Abstract Expressionism defined by intuitive and spontaneous gestures that had been dominant in American art for almost two decades, largely because of the critical support of writers such as Clement Greenberg and Harold Rosenberg. In contrast to the more expressionistic painters, the artists Mark Rothko and Barnett Newman emphasized the power of color and simplicity of design within the canvas field. Dubbed a Color Field painter, Rothko laid broad bands of color horizontally across the canvas while Newman discovered the skinny vertical zip motifs that divided his fields into zones of flat painted color. In each case the viewer became absorbed in the atmosphere of these large-scale works. Their more radical compatriot Ad Reinhardt painted solid fields of monochromatic red or black that banished all but the most subtle evidence of an artist's involvement in the work. Active as a writer, critic, and educator, he famously said, "My paintings are the last paintings one can make," and thereby endeared himself to the next generation of creators.

The artists who became Minimalists wanted instead to produce an art that was less personal and more substantial, believing that a work of art should not refer to anything other than itself. Thus by the early 1960s, many of these artists had abandoned painting altogether in favor of objects that seemed neither painting nor sculpture in the conventional sense. For example, Frank Stella's Black Paintings (1958-60), a series of hugely influential, concentrically striped canvases were stretched on a thicker wooden chassis that thrust them out from the wall aggressively. This support emphasized the materiality and objecthood of paintings that were clearly abstractions, lacked evidence of brushwork, and achieved a state of flatness that was exemplary to others. Stella's paintings extended the possibilities of painting beyond simple rectangles to be framed (which they weren't) and hung on a wall as ornament. His works instead assumed physical characteristics of both architecture and sculpture that contradicted all previous examples of painting.

Stella's achievement was echoed in the work of other abstract artists who were making large paintings that seemed to be based on geometric theorems. Kenneth Noland, who pursued Josef Albers's theories on the "interaction of colors," painted large abstract canvases that featured targets, chevrons, and striped patterns. Robert Mangold's monochromatic free-standing constructions were also affected by the prevalence of geometric abstraction that Albers had introduced.

The Start of Minimalism and Conceptual Art

In the next generation there were many theorists who became important spokespersons for the movements of both Minimal and Conceptual art, a contemporaneous style. These artists and writers helped determine the aesthetics and the critical reception of both styles.

Donald Judd conceived different types of regularly-shaped sculptures. Photo of a later work At the Chinati Foundation - Marfa, Texas

Donald Judd's "Specific Objects," published in 1965, attempted to establish the aesthetics of Minimalism. He in fact rejected the name "Minimalism" to characterize the art, favoring instead the term "specific objects," which he described as rejecting traditional distinctions between art forms to embrace works that were not easily labeled as either painting or sculpture.

Robert Morris wrote the three-part "Notes on Sculptures" in 1966, in which he called for the use of simple forms that could be grasped intuitively by the viewer and argued that the interpretation of Minimalist works was dependent on the context and conditions in which they were perceived. In making this argument he was essentially upending the notion of the artwork as having an inherent meaning - derived from the artist - that was independent of the viewer.

Sol LeWitt contributed to the development of both movements. He published, "Paragraphs on Conceptual Art"(1967) (considered by many to be the movement's manifesto), in which he wrote: "What the work of art looks like isn't too important. It has to look like something if it has physical form. No matter what form it may finally have it must begin with an idea. It is the process of conception and realization with which the artist is concerned." For 40 years until his death in 2007, LeWitt worked internationally as a sculptor, painter, and photographer and was the leader of the Minimalist artists after the deaths of Flavin and Judd.

Carl Andre published poetry that had both literary and visual appeal, the latter created by the artistic shaping of the text of the poem as if the words were a solid medium. These poems were an integral part of Andre's exhibitions, where they sometimes appeared in catalogue entries or next to his sculptures.

Joseph Kosuth's One and Three Chairs (1965) is a Conceptual milestone in which he assembled an object, a photograph of that object, and an enlarged dictionary definition of the object for a gallery exhibition. It questions what actually constitutes a chair in our thinking: is it the solid object we see and use or is it the word "chair" that we use to identify it and communicate it to others?

As a result of all these theoretical underpinings, the Minimalism movement found the setting to expand.

The Title of the Movement

From this multitude of sources the artists who became known as Minimalists plotted the new strategies that informed their projects and processes. Many names were floated to characterize this new art: "A.B.C. art," "Reductive Art," "literalism," "systemic painting," and "Art of the Real." "Minimalism" was the term that eventually stuck, perhaps because it best described the way the artists reduced art to the minimum number of colors, shapes, lines, and textures. Minimalism was also an accepted critical term in contemporary dance and music which, like the visual arts, was being stripped of ornament, used repetitive motifs, and found its settings in everyday, urban life rather than myths and legends of the past.

The Primary Structures Exhibition

The 1966 exhibition at the Jewish Museum in New York was a major event that attracted critical attention and established Minimalism as a significant force in the art world. The show included works by many of those who were important to the movement, including Sol LeWitt, Dan Flavin, Robert Morris, Carl Andre, and Donald Judd as well as some artists who were on its fringes, such as Ellsworth Kelly and Anthony Caro - over forty artists in total. Exhibitions like Primary Structures were accompanied by publications and critical reviews that advanced and broadened the discourse over both Minimalism and Conceptual art.

A New Art for New Spaces

In the 1960s and 1970s new exhibition spaces were opening in Europe and America. Traditional museums expanded their gallery facilities and new "kunsthalles," exhibition facilities without permanent collections, were created. The role of university galleries and museums was also expanded. Artist-run cooperative galleries like Artists Space in New York were emulated elsewhere. Typically these galleries took over large rough spaces that were frequently "laboratories" where Minimal and Conceptual artists tried out their work. By the 1970s there was a true boom in public art that brought Minimalist sculptors national recognition. State and local agencies established public sculpture parks where Minimalist sculpture flourished.

The new publication Artforum was started in California in 1962 relocated to New York City in 1967. Through several editorships the magazine developed and was by 1971 the trade journal for Minimalist and Conceptual art. In addition to reviews, it published work submitted by artists as well as the most thoughtful commentary on contemporary art.

Minimalism: Concepts, Styles, and Trends

Minimalist Sculpture

Most Minimalists were focused on creating three-dimensional objects, as this was the most radical and experimental facet of the movement. The Minimalists' emphasis on eradicating signs of authorship from their art by using simple, geometric forms and industrial materials led to works that resembled simple objects rather than traditional sculpture. The innovative placement of these works on the floor of gallery spaces rather than on pedestals further underscored their difference from conventional works of art.

The focus on surface and the artist's absence meant that the meaning of the object was not seen as inherent to the object itself, but came from the viewer's interaction with the object. This led to a new emphasis on the physical space in which the artwork resided. In part, this development was inspired by Maurice Merleau-Ponty's writings on phenomenology, in particular, The Phenomenology of Perception (1945).

Minimalist Paintings

Aside from sculptors, Minimalism is also associated with a few key abstract painters, such as Frank Stella, Ellsworth Kelly, Agnes Martin, and Robert Ryman. These artists painted simple canvases that were considered minimal due to their barebones, often geometric compositions. Using only line, solid color, and sometimes geometric forms and shaped canvases, these artists combined painting materials in such a way that questioned the traditional dichotomy between artistic media by making paintings that could also be considered objects in their own right because of the bulkiness of the canvas support and the nontraditional shapes of the paintings.

Minimalist Light Installations

This use of flourescent light tubes to create art further emphasized the Minimalist move away from traditional art forms. Dan Flavin used light and color from commercially available tubes to sculpt space into color zones. While the tubes were sometimes arranged in geometric shapes such as grids or simple lines, the focus of the art was typically on the light emitted rather than the form of the tubes themselves. The standard industrial fixtures that held the tubes were also useful as compositional elements. Turned to the viewer, their blank sides contrasted to the outward facing colored light in the grid pieces. Younger artists Keith Sonnier and Bruce Nauman saw the potential of light in sculpture and used neon tubing in combination with other materials and lettering.

Other Minimalists

The unadorned style and system-bound concepts of Minimalism found followers in architecture and interior design, where a revival of the International Style of the 1920s occurred and even Art Deco received a fresh look. Contemporary choreographers eliminated fussy costumes, and dancers performed to the strict, repetitive music by Minimalist composers on bare stages. Even, the frugal-appearing low-calorie plates of nouvelle cuisine imported from Paris were another phenomenon of Minimalism.

Later Developments - After Minimalism

Fulcrum (1987) by Richard Serra, is a site specific, 55-foot sculpture commissioned for the west entrance to Liverpool Street station in the Broadgate complex, London

By the late 1960s, just a few years after the movement was born, Minimalism was diversifying into many disciplines to such an extent that it could no longer be seen as a coherent style or tendency: various artists who had been important to its early development began to move in different personal directions. New ideas and styles quickly came to dominate the emerging world.

Art and Objecthood

Detractors of Minimalist art were led by Michael Fried, whose essay "Art and Objecthood" was published in Artforum in 1967. Although the essay seemed to confirm the importance of the movement as a turning point in the history of modern art, Fried was uncomfortable with what it heralded. Referring to the movement as "literalism" and those who made it as "literalists," he accused artists like Judd and Morris of intentionally confusing the categories of art and ordinary objects. According to Fried, what these artists were creating was not art, but a political and/or ideological statement about the nature of art. Fried maintained that just because Judd and Morris arranged identical non-art objects in a three-dimensional field and proclaimed it "art," it didn't necessarily make it so. Fried mildly ridiculed their efforts by warning them against what he perceived as theatricality in the justifications they made for their installations. This was in direct confrontation in particular with Morris, who described the importance of the duration of time and the viewer's movements needed to experience the art and the importance of the perceptions gathered by the viewer.


Robert Smithson's <i>Spiral Jetty</i> (1970) is the most famous work of Earth Art, a movement closely related to Post-Minimalism.

As the 1960s progressed, offshoots of Minimalism developed under the rubric of Post-Minimalism. Some of these, like works by Richard Serra, were extensions of Minimalist theories, but most were challenges to Minimalism's rigorous appearance. Californian Robert Irwin painted luminescent discs and minimalist canvases with faint stripes, but in 1969 he began making large gallery installations using available light sources concealed behind translucent screens. His works inspired the Light and Space movement joined by California sculptors Larry Bell and James Turrell. Such installations were openly theatrical and their simplicity suggested Zen Buddhist philosophy instead of formalism.

New venues encouraged more installations where Minimalist aesthetics were perceivable but strongly countered by independent visions. Lynda Benglis and Eva Hesse experimented with poured and shaped industrial resins that introduced an organic appearance when hung from the ceiling, projecting off the walls or scattered on the floor. Nancy Graves fabricated simulations of animal skins.

Robert Smithson organized an exhibition of Land art that posed an explicit challenge to conventional notions of sculpture and stretched Minimalist definitions. His Earthworks were made with bulldozers in remote locations and represented only by photographs. Following Smithson's example, Michael Heizer, Richard Long, and Walter De Maria removed art from galleries and turned the earth itself into artistic material. The boundaries between "sculpture" and "object" were eroded, and new definitions of art and creativity were revealed.

Minimalism and the Next Stage of Feminism

Viewing the success of the Minimalist sculptors in particular, feminists criticized what they saw as the rhetoric of power in the brutality of some of the works. The concept of Feminist art arose concurrent with Post-Minimalism and developed its own polemics born out of this era of consciousness-raising. Initially Feminist art was visibly handmade, craft-based, and incorporated ritual beliefs and icons: it was openly opposed to Minimalism and celebrated "the goddess." For example, Judy Chicago created The Dinner Party (1974), an enormous installation of ceramic place settings for thirty-nine historically famous women that was rich in cultural and totemic symbolism. It toured museums in America for five years, inspiring many collateral exhibitions along the route.

Throughout the 20th century women had been underrepresented in museums and galleries and lacked organization until one of the leading Minimalist artists and theorists - Robert Morris - appeared in a poster for a 1974 exhibition at Leo Castelli Gallery bare-chested and wearing chains and a Nazi-era helmet. Women who had participated in the Civil Rights Movement rose up against Morris and this image and began to call for gender equity in art practices. They published manifestos, picketed galleries and founded magazines such as Heresies, A Feminist Publication on Art and Politics (1977-92). The Woman's Building in Los Angeles and AIR Gallery in New York were established for women to show collaboratively and in solo exhibitions. The National Museum of Women in the Arts was founded in Washington, DC, in 1981 and moved into its own building in 1987, but by this time the objectives of the feminists had largely been realized.

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Content compiled and written by Justin Wolf

Edited and published by The Art Story Contributors

"Minimalism Movement Overview and Analysis". [Internet]. . TheArtStory.org
Content compiled and written by Justin Wolf
Edited and published by The Art Story Contributors
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First published on 21 Mar 2015. Updated and modified regularly
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