After the outsize drama of Jackson Pollock and Abstract Expressionism and the tongue-in-cheek chic of Andy Warhol and Pop Art, it was perhaps inevitable that artists and the public developed a newfound appreciation for simplicity. The 1960s and '70s art movement known as Minimalism—and its influence among artists at work today—is the subject of a new exhibition at the Sun Valley Center for the Arts.
The public is invited to an opening reception on Friday, Aug. 5, from 5-8 p.m. during Gallery Walk in Ketchum.
"The Literal Line: Minimalism Then and Now" is an exhibition that includes paintings, works on paper and sculpture by Carl Andre, Ruth Laskey, Sol LeWitt, Brice Marden, Agnes Martin, Wes Mills, Fred Sandback and Richard Tuttle. Borrowed almost entirely from private collections, the works on view represent an extraordinary showing for a gallery in central Idaho.
"Andre, LeWitt, Marden, Martin—these are really some of the giants of mid- to late-20th-century American art, and it's unusual to see their work outside major museums," said Kristin Poole, curator of the exhibition and The Center's co-executive director.
Poole said she hopes no one is put off by the use of the term "Minimalism."
"People get scared of 'isms' or think everyone else knows something they don't," she said. "But Minimalism is very much about what is there in front of you. Of course there is a larger historical context, but a viewer doesn't need to be schooled in art to appreciate color, form and line."
In addition to the exhibition, The Center is honored to present a lecture by Robert Storr, former curator in the department of painting and sculpture at the Museum of Modern Art and current consulting curator of modern and contemporary art at the Philadelphia Museum of Art as well as dean of the School of Art at Yale University. The lecture, on Tuesday, Aug. 9, at 6 p.m. is jointly sponsored by The Center, the Sun Valley Summer Symphony and The Community Library, and will be held at the library in Ketchum.
"I am going to talk about methodology and what went into the work," Storr said. "There are a lot of connections between artists."
Storr said he will discuss how interesting it is that so many artists in different mediums found themselves within the Minimalism movement.
"I want to start out with the talk about how there are ways of thinking about the art, which helps in looking at the art and the possibilities of it," he said. "It takes a lot to change conventional wisdom. If you pay close attention to small elements, you will find things happen with very little."
The Sun Valley Summer Symphony and The Community Library are also offering concerts and a lecture that relate to Minimalism. The symphony will perform minimalist pieces on Thursday, Aug. 4, and Sunday, Aug. 7, and the library will present a lecture on Minimalism and architecture on Thursday, Sept. 1. In addition, Center Visual Arts Curator Courtney Gilbert and Poole will present a free lecture tracing the history of Minimalism on Thursday, Sept. 15, at 5:30 p.m.
Minimalism is literally about surface and line—about materials and their properties rather than about expression or illusion—and tends to reduce art to its most basic elements. Minimalist artists often use grids or formulas and they question the idea that art is something that hangs on a wall or stands on a pedestal—often how and where a piece is displayed is an important part of its presentation.
There is great variety among the work on exhibition, ranging from Carl Andre's grid-format sculptures to Agnes Martin's ethereal paintings and drawings. Deeply influenced by Martin, Richard Tuttle makes small three-dimensional objects out of familiar materials like styrofoam or cardboard that are pinned or stacked in the gallery. Also influenced by Martin is Wes Mills, whose drawings are devoid of all outside references—all that exists in them is the line and the ground it sits on.
Some Minimalists relied on formulas and written instructions to create art that rejected the long-held perception of the artist as unique creator. Sol Lewitt's systematic approach to making art was based on a set of fixed dimensions and designs that anyone could execute. Like Lewitt, Fred Sandback also starts with a set of instructions, which in his case outline mathematical formulas for determining angles and dimensions. His forms are defined by lines of yarn strung in space that are a "volumeless" kind of sculpture. The viewer's intuitive ability to fill in the form is the crux of the work.
For years, Brice Marden's paintings were controlled blocks of subdued monochromatic color, but he departed from the Minimalist aesthetic in his rejection of the factory-finished surface. Instead, he built up his surfaces with beeswax and pigment and celebrated their tactile quality. After a trip to Southeast Asia in 1983, Marden switched to a calligraphic style that joins Minimalist spareness with a romantic sensibility that has become his signature.
Ruth Laskey's beautiful works are made of thread that she hand-dyes and then weaves into bleached linen so that she is essentially "drawing" with thread. As with many of the other works on display, these pieces invite a closer look at the relationship between color and shape, and ultimately, consideration of what is art.
Free exhibition tours will be offered on Tuesday, Aug. 16, at 2 p.m. and Thursday, Sept. 8, at 5:30 p.m. Tours in English or Spanish can be scheduled at other times by calling 726-9491. The Center will stay open until 8 p.m. on Friday, Sept. 2, for Gallery Walk.