When Minimalism came to the fore in the 1960’s, it was seen by its adherents as a logical reaction to what were then perceived as the expressively emotional immoderations that had become the hallmark of Abstract Expressionist artists in the post-war period.
Favoring the dispassionate and detached over the intense painterly histrionics of the Expressionists, Minimalist sculptors and painters sought to remove metaphorical symbolism from their works and replace it with a visual appeal based on a measure of aesthetic anonymity. Emphasizing materials over process and an almost complete eradication of visual information, Minimalists reflected the concept articulated years earlier by the author Antoine de St. Exupery when he stated that “perfection is achieved not when there is nothing more to add, but when there is nothing left to take away.”
This emphasis on simplicity of form and content is plainly apparent in the current exhibition at Guild Hall in East Hampton titled Aspects of Minimalism and featuring works by prominent Minimalist artists as well pieces by those who, while not necessarily considered adherents to the oeuvre, were either integral to its birth or profoundly influenced by its aesthetic priorities.
Culled from a number of collectors here on the East End of Long Island, it would be something of a misnomer to consider the exhibit as a complete survey of Minimalism since a number of seminal artists of the genre are absent, such as Brice Marden, Carl Andre, or Sol Lewitt. At the same time, however, the exhibition nevertheless offers a broad overview of the movement and provides valuable insights into its priorities as well as illustrating its continuing impact on the direction of art and artists working today.
Of particular import in the exhibit are a number of works by Dan Flavin, whose use of configured fluorescent lights to create color through illumination may have been some of the most impactful expansions on the limits of traditional painterly priorities. Using light as a conceptual manifestation of the physicality of paint itself, works such as Three Fluorescent Tubes (fluorescent lights, 1963) and Alternate Diagonals of March 2, 1964 (for Don Judd) (daylight fluorescent lights, 1964) are particularly important for their connection to Russian Constructivism, a movement that influenced the Minimalists for its use of integrated production and industrial materials over the conventional approaches of traditional sculptural impulses.
Another influential sculptor in the exhibition is the aforementioned Donald Judd who consistently strove in his works to reflect the idea that art shouldn’t be tied to any form of representational interpretation (and who, interestingly, actually objected to calling his work ‘sculptures’). Adhering to his own dictums that eschewed against any form of artistic illusion and artificially contrived space, works like Untitled (Hernandez 94.2) (6 units of Cor-Ten steel with green Plexiglas, 1994) or Untitled (anodized aluminum and brass, 1974) while also influenced by the Russian Constructivists, highlighted in his pieces the idea of structure absent any measure of configurational or compositional hierarchy.
Perhaps the most surprising work in the exhibition and which illustrates the impact of Minimalism even on those whose work emphasized elements well outside its superficial austerity is Andy Warhol’s Shadow (synthetic polymer and silkscreen inks on canvas, 1978-79). Part of a series of 102 silkscreened canvas panels conceived as one painting with multiple components, there are elements that call to mind Franz Kline’s investigations into calligraphic compulsions while the use of color vibrates with an intensity that is more reminiscent of industrial influences than those that emanate strictly from the human experience.
Another work of note in the exhibition is a canvas from Josef Alber’s extensive geometric studies exploring chromatic exchanges with nested squares. Titled Study for Homage to the Square: De Profundo” (oil on Masonite, 1965-68) the work is part of the artist’s series investigating the interactions between shape and color which he began in 1950 and which included literally hundreds of paintings and which hugely impacted the Minimalists obsessions with his investigations of the indistinctness of optical perception.
Also of interest in the exhibition is Bridget Riley’s Java (oil on linen, 1983, Gerhardt Richter’s Wiesenfeld (oil on canvas, 1965), On Kawara’s Oct 27, 1982 (Today Series) (Liquitex on canvas, 1982, and Agnes Martin’s The Peach (oil and graphite on canvas, 1964).
The exhibition Aspects of Minimalism: Selections from East End Collections continues at Guild Hall in East Hampton through October 10. For further information, go to www.guildhall.org.