Wednesday, April 20, 2011

What is Minimalism?

Art history seminar to explain movement

Express Staff Writer

Twill Series by Ruth Laskey, (Black Cherry, Amethyst/Fire Red), 2007, private collection. Hand dyed and hand woven linen.

A summer exhibition, "The Literal Line: Minimalism Then and Now," will take place at the Sun Valley Center for the Arts this summer Aug. 5-Sept. 30. In preparation for the exhibit, The Center will offer a series of three lectures to explain the sometimes perplexing art movement dubbed Minimalism.

The lecture series will begin on Thursday, May 5, when Kristin Poole, The Center's artistic director and co-executive director, will present "Modernism to Minimalism." In 1917, Marcel Duchamp placed a urinal on its side in a gallery space and named it "Fountain." Two years earlier, Vladimir Tatlin had exhibited a work made from common materials and depending on the corner of the gallery space for support. Thirty years later, John Chamberlain took mangled car parts and presented them as sculpture, while at the same time Robert Rauschenberg was perusing city streets for castoff household goods to include in his "Combines."

Working under the umbrella term "Modernism," these and other artists changed the way sculpture was being made, approached and considered. This lecture will explore important works from the early 20th—century that challenged our ideas about what art is, and in so doing created an environment that encouraged a handful of artists to create work that became known as Minimalism.

Continuing the series, Courtney Gilbert, The Center's curator of visual arts, will present "Minimalism in its Moment: The 1960s and 1970s" on Thursday, May 12. The lecture will focus on the key artists and moments in Minimalism, from Robert Morris and his 1966 essay, "Notes on Sculpture 1-3," to art historian Michael Fried's attack on Minimalist art as "theatrical." Gilbert will explore Minimalism as a reaction to Abstract Expressionism and tease out the relationship between Minimalist artwork and its makers' writings and theories. In addition to Morris, Gilbert will consider the work of artists Carl Andre, Jo Baer, Dan Flavin, Donald Judd, Sol LeWitt, Agnes Martin, Richard Serra, Robert Smithson and Frank Stella.

The last lecture with Kristin Poole, "The Straight Line: Then and Now," will take place on Thursday, May 19. Modernist and Minimalist artists shared a desire to create art outside the world of luxury goods and commodities, a desire that has resonated in different ways since Minimalism's heyday. In the 1970s and 1980s, artists took courage from the work of the Minimalists and began to make huge works of art by moving large areas of earth. Others tried thwarting the system by not making objects at all, but instead making conceptual work in which the idea was as or more important than its execution.

More recently, contemporary artists have looked to early Minimalists' reliance on mathematical systems, repetition and grids for the basis of their own work. Others have absorbed the Minimalists' reductive and austere approach and combined it with their own ideas of mark-making, sparingly using color or form to get at more spiritual ideas about the human condition.

The lectures are $10 or $25 for all three. They will take place at the Sun Valley Center for the Arts in Ketchum at 5:30 p.m. To register for the seminar series or buy individual tickets, visit or call 726-9491.

Sabina Dana Plasse:

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