Minimal art, a search of the essential

Minimal art, a search of the essential
Isabel del Rio

 Minimal art, Minimalism or ABC art.

Minimal art. Malevich

Minimal art. Malevich

Originated in New York City in the late 60’s, Minimal art (also called Minimalism or ABC art) is an artistic movement in which expressiveness and illusion are minimized by the use of simple geometric shapes, flat colors, and an objective approach to the artwork.

If we look for its antecedents, we must speak about the 1915 composition by the Russian artist Kasimir Malevich (originator of the avant-garde movement called Suprematism) of “Black Square on a White Ground” (now, at the State Tretyakov Gallery in Moscow). Also, about some artworks by the artists of the German Bauhaus and about the influence of Japanese art and philosophy and, even more, Minimal art is influenced by the unemotional, quiet works of Barnett Newman and Ad Reinhardt, exponents of the color-field branch of Abstract Expressionist painting.

The first Minimalist artists: Donald Judd, John McCracken, Agnes Martin, Dan Flavin, Carl Andre, Robert Morris, Frank Stella, Anne Truitt… were tired of the Action Painting movement (Jackson Pollock) that had dominated American art during the 50’s. They saw Action Painting too much intuitive, personal and insubstantial and they look for impersonal expressions and for the anonymous construction of a simple object or figure. Then, they reject also other types of geometric abstract manifestations, as lyrical or mathematical compositions, because they show feelings and features of the artist.

Nothing is intuitive in the Minimal art but the result of a hard study. They intended to emphasize the two dimensions of a surface (painting) or the nude materials of a sculpture (fiberglass, plastic, sheet metal, or aluminum) because the artwork cannot have any meaning beyond itself to allow the viewer and immediate, purely visual response.

Minimal art. A Wall for Apricots, by Anne Truitt

Minimal art. A Wall for Apricots, by Anne Truitt

Then, painting is characterized by large, simplified, usually geometric forms on an overall flat surface; precise, razor-sharp contours; and wide spaces of bright, flat colors which have been stained into unprimed canvas.

Minimal sculptures are made of simple, colossal geometric forms which can be left raw or solidly painted with bright industrial colors. Like painters, minimalist sculptors attempted to make their works wholly objective, unexpressive, and non-referential.

Parallel to painting or sculpture, it developed Minimal music (La Monte Young, Morton Feldman, Philip Glass, Steve Reich, Cornelius Cardew, or Frederic Rzewski). They also reject the complex style of Modern music and compose in a simple style creating an extremely accessible music and trying to eliminate variation, using simple harmonic patterns in their highly repetitive music, sometimes influenced by Oriental music.

Therefore, in both music and visual arts, Minimalism is an attempt to explore the essential elements of the artistic expression and even if they refuse other Western art movements, they are part of the Western search, which characterized our art from the beginning of 20th century (Fauvism, Cubism, Surrealism, Expressionism, Abstract art, Land art, Primitivism, Naive…). Like other movements, their quest is a humble quest, searching for inspiration in other cultures and valuing the work of art in itself, far of its narrative. However, Minimal art took a step beyond when tried to value the work of art beyond the feelings and personal intentions of the artist too.

“Color is the essence of painting, which the subject always killed.” (Kasimir Malevich)

Video: Music by La Monte Young

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