‘What you see is what you see’. - Frank Stella
Minimalism emerged in New York in the early 1960s. Distancing themselves from the Abstract Expressionism that was so popular at the time, Minimalists attempted to remove any hint of metaphor or biography from their work. They sought to take art in a new direction; art was thought of as a depiction, abstract or not, of objects, scenes, emotions and experiences that are based in our world. Minimalists decided to strip away these reflections of reality in art and confront observers with art that simply is. Minimalism is a movement that strives to detach artwork from any notions of projection or reflection and aims to have viewers respond only to what they see in front of them, creating art that exists as an object in its own right, untethered by connotations.
Minimalism, or as it’s sometimes referred to as ‘minimal art’ or ‘literary art’, emerged as an independent art movement in America in the 60s. However, we can see examples of minimalist elements and features in art throughout Europe in the 20th century. Minimalism is rooted visually and philosophically in the Bauhaus, Constructivism and De Stijl movements. Some of Minimalism's influences go even further back: the birth of Minimalism succeeded and continued a period of monochrome revival, and the paintings of Yves Klein and Ad Reinhardt seem to anticipate Minimalism. However the first monochromes as art are noted as far back as 1882 in an Incoherent arts' exhibition in Paris. Pieces like ‘Première communion de jeunes filles chlorotiques par un temps de neige’ (First communion of anaemic young girls in the snow) by Alphonse Allais.
Artists like Frank Stella, Agnes Martin, Kenneth Noland, Donald Judd and Ellsworth Kelly pioneered the movement with Monochrome, colour field, geometric abstraction and hard-edge paintings, as well as sculptures or ‘constructed objects’. All of these attempted to confront the observer with nothing other than the art object itself, seeking to gain autonomy for these works and the space they occupy, a democratic presentation disregarding compositional hierarchy. These works became known as Minimalism.
Minimalism brought together pre existing elements of painting and sculpture such as the colourful geometry of Orphism or the prefabricated materials of Dada. They then interlinked these elements with a philosophy that was evident in the works' visual and physical forms. Minimalists broke down the traditional notions associated with sculpture and painting as well as breaking down distinctions between the two artistic disciplines. Minimalists focus on scale and arrangement of forms and pushing audiences to consider weight, gravity, height, width or even light as materials with a physical presence. The impact of these concepts and methods of making and experiencing art are huge — contemporary sculpture, conceptual art, design and curatorship all bear the mark of Minimalism. Keep your eyes peeled the next time you're at a modern art gallery or show, perhaps you'll notice the impact of Minimalism.
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