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Sunday, 5 June 2011

Minimalism: Specific Objects and Experienced Variable

By Alexandra A Jopp

Analyses of the Minimalist artists Donald Judd and Robert Morris generally focus on their three-dimensional work. The aesthetics of both artists are based on the principles of geometrical abstraction, the placement of simple geometric forms in non-illusionistic space, combined into non-objective compositions. Morris and Judd doubted the value of the compositional norms of European art, praised Pollock and moved artistic sculpture in the direction of architecture. Michael Fried’s essay “Art and Objecthood,” first published in 1967 in Art Forum, though, criticizes Minimalism, specifically mentioning Judd and Morris, whose work, Fried writes, showed a tendency toward objecthood, a term that contains the antitheses to art.

Carl Andre. American, born 1935. Steel-Aluminum Plain, 1969.

Donald Judd, Untitled, 1965

Donald Judd, Untitled, 1968

In Specific Objects (1965), Donald Judd introduces the idea of a new kind of art that is “neither painting nor sculpture.” The idea of a “specific object” suggests that Judd no longer produces art, per se, but actual items. The objects are depersonalized, with a concentration on pure form. Judd rejects illusionism in favor of creating objects in three dimensional space by using simple composition principles and many materials and colors. His goal is to focus on the space occupied and created by his objects, in other words, their purity of form. Art should no longer be representational, he argues, nor presume to describe human emotion. It should just be art. Judd disapproves of the tradition of “relational composition” in European art: “Put things in the center,” he writes, “and I will use a symmetrical pattern, but we use symmetry in a different way. It’s nonrelational.” He sees his work as hierarchical and balanced, something that is “made part by part, by addition, composed.” He argues that art whose forms, colors, surfaces and other “aspects” is “specific” and “polarized” – that is, autonomous, rather than dependent or derivative – is most “interesting.” Most objects in the world, Judd concludes, are not interesting, and, thus, are not worthy of contemplating. Judd, then, makes a clear distinction between art – according to his definition, of course – and non-art.

Donald Judd, Untitled, 1966. Stainless steel and yellow Plexiglas. Six 34 inch cubes.
Untitled (Pink Felt), 1970. Felt pieces of various sizes, overall dimensions variable.
Robert Morris, installation in the Green Gallery, New York, 1964. Seven geometric plywood structures painted grey.

Robert Morris. Untitled, 1969.

Robert Morris. Threadwaste (1968).

Robert Morris.Untitled (Corner Piece)* (1964)
While Judd describes an art that is “neither painting nor sculpture,” Robert Morris characterizes his work as a new kind of sculpture in Notes on Sculpture (1966). In this set of essays, Morris outlines the criteria by which his own work, in his opinion, should be judged. Like Judd, Morris places his work in the context of American progress and judges European norms rather harshly: “European art since Cubism has been a history of permuting relationships around the general premise that relationships should remain critical. American art has developed by uncovering successive alternative premises for making itself.

Minimalist work (particularly that of Morris and Judd) was met with critical resistance by Michael Fried. His critique was based on the argument that Minimalism is not concerned with the work of art itself, but, rather, focuses on the conditions in which it is viewed by a spectator. He quotes Morris as stating that, “One is more aware than before that he himself is establishing relationships as he apprehends the object from various positions and under varying conditions of light and spatial contexts.” This act is a transformation of the argument offered by Merleau-Ponty in “Theory of the Body is Already a Theory of Perception” (1945) that attempts to establish the object as a bodily experience and the relationship between body and object as foundational for experience.


  1. From your profile:
    You say: "But I probably like Paris in November the most."

    I say to you:"Paris in November is nothing compared with Venice in March". :)

    Nice blog. One can see you a true lover of the Arts.

  2. Thanks for your comment. And thanks for reading the blog. Venice in March?! Never been....Excellent suggestion, though.

  3. I have the idea of completely glossing over Judd’s ideals and philosophical viewpoint, and simply painting a rendition of one of his Untitled wall installations!