Minimalism in the XX Century: Simple Gestures and Essential Ideas.
The formal definition of the term minimalism depicts an aesthetic precept, but over time this concept has evolved to mean several things to many different persons. This is because of the elasticity of the issues of 'less is more' and the capability to apply it to fashion, music, literature, art, architecture, and home decorations. While these are the typical applications of recent times, it is essential to grasp the historical background of Minimalism and how it evolved to what it is today.
What is Minimalist Art?
Minimalist Art or Minimalism is a type of abstract art typically conveyed through hard edges and simple shapes that seek to abandon the traditional notions that art means something more than what it is. Viewers are embraced to see the artwork for what it is and how it occupies the space. Usually, minimalist artworks are established with simplicity and minimal lines and shapes to minimize the work to only depict its crucial qualities. The minimalist movement opposed the notion that art was meant for the elites alone.
What Qualities Define Minimalist Art
The characteristic of minimalist art mainly focuses on utilizing monochromatic colors. These are typically one or two colors, with black and whites being dominant. Also, geometric lines and shapes such as rectangles are placed alongside one another in a repetitive form known as seriality.
They are also characterized by putting objects in horizontal or vertical planes, always including the floor using industrial materials such as plastics, wood, concrete, metals, and light installations.
Minimalism and Early Abstraction
Even though the early abstraction rejected and opposed many aspects of the immediately preceding abstract expressionist movements, the earlier abstract movements were an essential influence towards techniques and ideas of Minimalism. In 1863 – 1922, the first English book known as Camilla Gray's The Great Experiment in Art was published, which depicted the issues of Russian avant-garde.
With this publication, the Russian suprematist and constructivist issues of the 1910s and 1920s, such as the depreciation of artworks to their significant structure and the employment of factory production mechanisms, became more largely understood and motivated minimalist sculptors.
Minimalism art Arrives on the Scene
Abstract Expression was the dominant art movement in the U.S. back in the 1940s and 1950s. The movement was characterized by a firm emotional and dramatic content and loose, spontaneous, and gestural works and profound biographical components in each artwork. However, as time went on, several young artists emerged in the late 1950s, such as Donald Judd and Dan Flavin, to oppose the definitions of visual arts. They were motivated by the robust concepts from European movements, including the German Bauhaus or the Dutch De Stijl. The Dutch De Stijl art movement originated in the Netherlands in 1917. It focused on the essentials of establishing art by sticking to primary colors such as black and whites. Equally, artists mainly used the obvious foundational shapes and forms on vertical and horizontal planes.
These movements were not only far beyond the native attitude regarding sculpture and painting but also very far from abstract expressionism influence. Several artists dropped sculptures and paintings in favor of things interrogating the conventional boundaries of what can be regarded as artwork.
Consequently, from the onset of the 1960s, Minimalism elevated to prominence due to a combination of several factors such as heightened interest in museum curators and the art market and publications. The early structures exhibition at the Jewish Museum in 1966 was particularly essential for creating the Minimalist art movement. The exhibition consisted of the works of key artists such as Dan Flavin, Sol Lewitt, and Robert Morris, who presented formally reductive artworks alongside geometric and naked materials.
Equally, the emergence of Minimalism can be linked to that of conceptual art, which flourished in the 1960s and 1970s. These art movements opposed the early structures for making and viewing art and opined that the significance placed on art objects is misplaced and leads to a powerful art world which the selected few can enjoy.
During the 1960s, many artists published articles that shaped and described the minimalist movement. To begin with, Donald Judd's article on Specific Objects attempted to create the aesthetics of Minimalism. Judd abandoned the traditional differences between art forms to encourage works that were not so easily labeled as sculpture or painting.
On the other hand, Robert Morris published an article known as Notes on Sculptures in 1966. He advocated for the use of simple forms that the viewer could easily understand and argued that artwork's interpretation depended on the content and conditions envisaged in the objects.
Minimalism also applies to architecture. It was previously influenced by movements such as De Stijl, which centered on using straight horizontal and vertical lines, which were very simple. Therefore, this shows that minimalist art follows the concepts of the De Stijl movement.
Minimalist architecture sought to exclude all features on a building that seemed extra and only regarded the essential elements of a building.
Minimalist architecture appears geometric in its shapes without decorations. Also, there would be a lot of repetition of the shapes or forms, which is often known as seriality. This simply means putting artwork elements in a series with the main aim of portraying simplicity.
German architect Ludwig Mies van der Rohe initiated the concept of 'Less is More' while defining how he created his architecture. He used vital concepts, which later achieved the visual and functional purpose.
The sculpture was an essential part of minimalism and minimalism art. Artists were focused on establishing three-dimensional geometric forms in the space using materials like aluminum, sheet metals, plywood, fiberglass, and plastic. Sculptures were placed on the floor. Visitors were invited to give their opinion and examine the relationship between different parts of the art objects within the repetition of geometric shapes. Artists sought to portray the object purely as it was without giving it another meaning. Artists were equally concerned with how viewers could view these sculptures in terms of their parts and shapes without thinking otherwise.
For instance, when you look at a cube, Sol Lewitt opined that 'the fascinating characteristic of a cube is that it is relatively uninteresting.' In other words, the sculpture could stand alone without the artist giving it a meaning. One significant relationship stood out in minimalist sculptures: the relationship between the object and the space it occupied. The sculptures could either be on the floor or stand in the way. Thus there was a hint of intentional placing of sculptures on the way like it was depicted by Carl Andre's Lever 1966, which comprised of 137 bricks placed in a line along the floor.
Installations in minimalist art can be seen mainly in the form of light installations. Artists began using fluorescent light tubes to show that they affected the space. By using fluorescent tubes, artists emphasized on the light more than the tube itself to create an effect. Dan Flavin employed this technique in his series titled Icons in 1961 by combining electric lights with plain square-fronted cubes and later began working with any commercially available fluorescent tubes.
The artists were focused on how light and geometric shapes could affect the surrounding space, and the perception is brought to the viewer.
Artists who championed this idea include John McCracken, Mary Corse, and Larry Bell.
Minimalism is still prevalent in today's artists. For example, Artists from Chicago such as John Pittman and Theaster Gates embrace aesthetic concepts through form and shape. Corporate art consultant firms exist in the U.S that work both locally and internationally in various styles, including contemporary Minimalism. Simple, impactful geometric artwork is prevalent in most modern office furnishings; Minimalism and aesthetic additions can work well in the corporate space.
Who are the Most Important Artists of The Minimalism Art Movement?
Essential minimalist figures are Donal Judd, Carl Andre, Dan Flavin, Frank Stella, Ellsworth Kelly, Sol Lewitt, Agnes Martin, Robert Morris, and Robert Ryman.