Minimalism has been an area of research that has been the overall influence for my artwork during this year. Fascinated by the utilisation of shapes and essays written throughout this era has somewhat been applied to my creation and thought process, making me more aware of the presence of my art. This essay will discuss the history of the movement, artists and effect the movement has had on contemporary art.
Minimalist art consisted of geometric shapes using painting and sculpture as the main mediums. The artworks had very minimal amounts of detail and often appeared to be visually ‘plain’. Minimalism emerged in the latter of the 1950s, it was first considered as an art phenomenon owning to Frank Stella’s Black Paintings. The interest of this essentially- ‘blank canvas’ bore a striking contrast of simplicity when compared to the artists who were painting alongside Stella during the Abstract Expressionist movement prominent in the 1950s. The movement Minimalism followed suit of the Abstract Expressionist movement which started to come to an end in the 1960s. Abstract Expressionism allowed artists to create works of art that evoked expressive and emotional effects. The movement, however, was somewhat rejected by Minimalist artists as their main aim was to expose the most basic essence of art. (Muscato, n.d.) This rejection and exploration of a new way of creating artwork after the post-war movements led to a heavily discussed concept initiating the debate of Objecthood.
Another key point to briefly consider is how minimalism was interpreted after the movement came to an end towards the latter of the 1960s. Following the minimalist era, Postminimalism was a movement used to describe the work which was against Minimalism and its insistence on close, geometric forms. (Fowler, n.d.) The term was first used by Robert Pincus-Witten in 1971 and it means a development of the 1960s Minimalist period. Post-Minimalists criticized the autonomy, object-centeredness, aggressive spatial presence, exclusive of reference to the body, and implicit masculinity of Minimalist art (Sinsen, 2011). This effectively paved the way for the Women’s movement, significantly increasing the number of women artists. An exhibition at The Museum of Modern Art, Sense and Sensibility: Women Artists and Minimalism in the Nineties, (1994) enabled women to display installations that expanded the boundaries and meanings of Minimalism and Post-Minimalism (The Museum of Modern Art, 2019) and the works of art displayed at this exhibition are devoted in their entirety to the rising contemporary art movement. Feminism and Conceptual art were very prominent around that era, but both have little concern with the sculptural artwork I have created. Post-Minimalism is of little value and is somewhat detrimental to understanding Minimalism, since it is a consideration of how Minimalism was interpreted in art movements proceeding the 1960s. Most artists Post-Minimalism felt that Minimalism was breaking away from the tradition that art critics, Clement Greenberg and Michael Fried, highly championed within Abstract Expressionism because of Minimalism being too involving of the beholder. That said the movements aesthetic was something that Post-Minimalist artists wanted to deconstruct by indulging in new investigations into abstraction.
During the 1960s, artists Donald Judd and Robert Morris initiated the conversation around the object in art. Judd’s essay entitled, ‘’Specific Objects’’ (1965), describes (his) sculpture as a painting and that most sculpture is like the painting that preceded Pollock, Rothko, Still and Newman. (Judd, 1965). Whereas Morris associated his work with painting for the first time after moving on from the Minimalist movement, since he wanted to move beyond objects resulting in the creation of works termed the ‘anti form’. (Batchelor, 2004)
It was the confusion of overlapping disciplines however, that Michael Fried felt was the biggest criticism of Minimalist sculpture. Fried wrote an essay in the latter of the 1960s, entitled, ‘’Art and Objecthood’’ (1967). Within this essay Fried compares sculpture to a lot of painting references using Frank Stella and Jackson Pollock as a comparison to the works of Judd and Morris. He was heavily influenced by Clement Greenberg’s stance on art that often discussed what makes a good piece of art and was strongly supporting of the Abstract Expressionist movement. Both Fried and Greenberg would champion an Abstract Expressionist painting because they were able to see it as separate from the surrounding world. Greenberg urged artists to emphasise the Objecthood ‟or actuality of their works – whether a canvas in the case of a painter, or a cube in the case of a sculptor.’’ (VanEenoo, 2011) By this, it was meant, that paintings were presented in a traditional manner, being hung on a wall and framed away from the beholders. By doing this he believed the paintings reinstated their true definition and traditional presentation, but that the paintings also allowed the beholder to become embodied within this pictorial space. For Fried this is where his confliction with Minimalist art began, particularly sculpture. He felt that once confronted with a three-dimensional-geometric object (or sculpture) that there was an anthropomorphic presence. Anthropomorphic meaning, tying links with ideas to incorporating human characteristics into inanimate objects or animals. (Horowitz et al, 2019) Fried felt therefore, that the artwork had a human-like presence akin to a theatrical setting. Fried felt strongly about disciplines crossing over with art. He felt that ‘’Art degenerates as it approaches the condition of theatre.’’ (Fried, 1967). This isn’t just visible and unique to Judd’s sculptures.
‘’Minimalism developed a general phenomenon that embraced parallel developments in music, dance and literature as well as painting and sculpture.’’ (Minimalism and After Staff, et al, 2010)
Another generalised criticism of Minimalist sculpture was exploring how the works appeared to the beholder. All art is subjective in relation to the way an artwork is valued visually, but the main criticism for Minimalist sculpture was that the ‘’drastically reduced geometries of the new art lacked complexity, that the visual experience of the work was impoverished.’’ (Meyer, J. 2004) which made some critics call these artworks ‘empty’. (Lippard and Chandler, n.d.). On the other hand, however, the perceptual ambiguity (Foster, 2009) acts as the catalyst for the beholder wanting to know more about the work they’re perceiving.