Five Decades of Minimalism

Five Decades of Minimalism

The exhibition includes works by Carl Andre, Jo Baer, Dan Flavin, Donald Judd, Sol Lewitt, Robert Mangold, Agnes Martin, Richard Serra, and Frank Stella. Often characterized as a reaction to the energetic and emotional exuberance of Abstract Expressionism, the art-historical label of “Minimalism,” is somewhat misleading as it implies that works identified as such similarly share a formal identity and their artists a common understanding. Minimalism, however, is best understood as discourse with artists defining themselves by proximity to and difference from each other. The exhibition highlights this heterogeneity.

Minimalist painters stressed control and meditative rationalism over and against the Romantic freedom of Expressionism. Pictorial space was eliminated in favor of an emphasis of the physical reality of paint on canvas. Coolly planned and executed, Frank Stella’s paintings from the ‘60s helped to define our understanding of what abstract painting could be. Bampur, a striking, shaped canvas from 1965, pushes and pulls the eye over bands of primary color by exposed canvas “grooves.” The staggered shape of the canvas enhances this sense of movement. Robert Mangold’s paintings, too, appear as objects rather than images, comprised of simple elements put together by often complex means. The triptych, Curled Figure IX, 2000, highlights Mangold’s composed execution, its double nautilus perfectly contained on the panels. Agnes Martin, along with Jo Baer, was one of the few recognized female painters of the time. Martin’s Untitled, circa 1995-1999 is a meditative work of graphite lines on white and cream ground. For Martin, painting was a world without objects. Notably, she did not think of herself as a Minimalist as she felt her paintings to be a meditative expression of joy through sublime perfection

Judd, Flavin and Andre rejected painting altogether in favor of the production of objects that exist in real space and time. They utilized industrial materials and methods to produce objects calculatedly unlike those that are mass-produced. Donald Judd designed simple, elegant forms out of metals, plywood, concrete, and Plexiglas and rejected classical methods of composition in favor of mathematical progressions and standardized proportions. Untitled 89-102, 1989, in gray-painted aluminum, exemplifies how Judd harmonizes form, material, structure, and color. Carl Andre (once Frank Stella’s studio mate) is best known for his arrangements of tile-like forms on the floor, emphasizing the grounding force of gravity. Fourth Copper Cardinal, 1973, creates a definite sense of place, subject to the same natural laws as those that experience the work. Dan Flavin’s sculptural objects and installations employ commercially available fluorescent light fixtures to explore color, light and sculptural space in works that fill gallery interiors. Untitled, 1968 is comprised of three stacked six-foot fluorescent lights, one red and one green, the effects is a radically simple yet transformative installation.

Five Decades of Minimalism

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