Michael Delahoyde, PhD

Professor of English


Minimalism was not an organized movement but a label “applied by critics for apparently simple geometric structures” (Dempsey 236) being produced in the New York art world around 1963-1965 by such artists as Donald Judd (1928-1994), Robert Morris (1931-2018), Dan Flavin (1933-1996), and Carl Andre (1935- ). The artists tended to dislike the label because implied their work was simplistic and devoid of content. Minimalist art is usually made with an extreme economy of means and reduced to the essentials of geometric abstraction. Russian constructivists and suprematists were influential here with art that rejects overt sentimentality (like the New Novel and New Wave cinema). Theatricality of the viewing experience was sometimes emphasized, influenced by reader-response thinking, and by the Fluxus emphasis on events — just with much less.

Minimalist compositions are generally characterized by mathematically precise geometric forms and planes of color, lacking any external reference. The term “minimalism” started applying to music in the 1970s.

Carl Andre (1935- ) — From 1960 to 1964 he worked on Pennsylvania Railway, involved with standardized interchangeable units; so from the mid-’60s on he worked with assembled bricks, Styrofoam planks, cement blocks in pseudoindustrial artworks.

10 x 10 Altstadt Copper Square (1967)
Copper, 100 units, 3/16 x 19 11/16 x 19 11/16 inches each; 3/16 x 197 x 197 inches overall.

37 Pieces of Work (1969)
A metal mosaic or quilt on the floor (of the Guggenheim originally) which the spectator is invited to walk on. The individual pieces number 36; the entirety of the work is the 37th.

Zinc Magnesium Plane (1969)
The piece is not bound together but merges with the floor.

Trabum (1977)
Douglas fir, Nine units, 12 x 12 x 36 inches each; 36 x 36 x 36 inches overall.

Equivalent VIII (1978)
Basic industrial materials were painstakingly installed, and the new identity was not convincing to critics at the Tate Gallery in London.

Robert Morris (1931-2018) — Morris is interested in how mirrored objects, viewers, and gallery space interact. His works often involve industrial materials such as plywood, fiberglass, and steel.

Untitled (Corner Piece) (1964)
Painted plywood and pine, 72 x 102 x 51 inches.

Donald Judd (1928-1994) — Judd had studied philosophy and art history. In his treatise “Specific Objects” (1965), he argued that actual space is more powerful than the painted canvas: “paint on a flat surface.”

Untitled (1993)
Brass and green plexiglass. Simplification of shape, volume, color, surface to basic cube. Deliberately intended not to represent or express. Minimal personal contact with his work — produced by others.

Untitled (1969)
Another wall stack sculpture on a pedestal but painting flat on a wall. The wall is part of the work. Plywood, aluminum, plexiglass, iron, stainless steel — seldom used by sculptors. Negative space important. 1971 he moved to Texas and converted buildings into permanent installations.

Untitled (1970)
A dual Fibonacci progression (a mathematical sequence in which each number is the sum of the previous two: 0, 1, 1, 2, 3, 5, etc.) provides the intrinsic logic to the work and the space.

Dan Flavin (1933-1996) — Flavin studied art at Columbia and often credits his predecessors in titles.

Fluorescent light installation (1974)
Light tubes. Flavin regarded the space as integral too, so light and space take the place of the conventional art object. The light radiates beyond, so where does art begin and end?

The nominal three (to William of Ockham) (1963)
Fluorescent light fixtures with daylight lamps, each fixture: 6 feet; 72 x 212 1/2 x 5 inches. This is dedicated to the 14th-century philosopher.

Greens crossing greens (to Piet Mondrian who lacked green) (1966)
Fluorescent light fixtures with green lamps and the first of his barrier pieces invades the viewer’s space.

Untitled (to Tracy, to celebrate the love of a lifetime) (1992)
Fluorescent light fixtures with pink lamps, each fixture 8 feet, dedicated to his fiancée. The fixture rose from the rotunda floor, “suffusing the space with a warm pink glow.”

Ellsworth Kelly

Blue, Green, Yellow, Orange, Red (1966)
Oil on canvas, five monochrome panels arranged in the order of the chromatic spectrum.

Works Consulted

Dempsey, Amy. Art in the Modern Era: A Guide to Styles, Schools & Movements. NY: Harry N. Abrams Inc., Pub., 2002.