Minimalist Art

What is Minimalist Art?

Minimalist Art (or Minimalism) is an artistic tendency developed in the United States in the Sixties and characterized by works of art with extremely simple and modular forms, reduced to their elementary geometric structure. In Minimalism, the forms of expressiveness, emotionality, identity are suppressed in order to emphasize the objectivity and the essence of the artwork.

The term Minimalism was officially coined in 1965, used for the first time by the English philosopher Richard Wollheim in an article entitled “Minimal Art”, published inside the review Arts Magazine. In the article, the scholar deals with the tendency of “minimal reduction” in Visual Arts, listing the artistic practices which were characterized by impersonality, a strong conceptual component and, indeed, the reduction to the essential form. Minimal Art had, in fact, begun to emerge a few years earlier, at the end of the 1950s, as an extreme and detached response to Abstract Expressionism and to the Gestural Art of the previous generation of American artists.

Notable Minimalist Artworks

History of Minimalist Art

Minimalism -also referred to as Minimalist Art, literalist art, Primary Structures, ABC Art, Antiform, and Cool Art– describes a movement that has particularly involved the fields of Visual Arts and Design, but it has actually impacted music, literature, and linguistics as well. It is often used in a broader sense, going to indicate all the reductionist trends in the creative field. From a historical-critical point of view it indicates a set of specific artistic experiences flourished in the United States between the 1960s and early 1970s.

Minimalist Art emerged as an outright rejection of the gestural tendencies of the previous years, characterized by a strong expressive component and emotionality (see Abstract Expressionism). On the contrary, Minimalist artists proposed a purified and cold approach to art, focused on the object and on formal concerns. They purified the artwork of all its non-essential elements, creating works characterized by simple geometric shapes, modularity, sequences, use of the monochrome, and lack of emotionality.

The programmatic intent of the minimalists was to eliminate the visible presence of the artist, often exalting the use of industrial processes instead of craft ones,  and pure forms. In this sense, the approach  was similar to the one of Pop Art, even if Minimalist Art, from an aesthetical perspective and for its theoretical instances, is closely related to Conceptual Art.

Minimalist Art primarily emerged in the late 1950s with Frank Stella’s Black Paintings, exhibited at the Museum of Modern Art of New York in 1959.  These monochromatic paintings programmatically broke with the gestural tradition in vogue until then; in the Sixties, artists such as Carl Andre, Donald Judd, Sol Le Witt  Robert Morris,  Dan Flavin, became the most significant exponents of the minimalist current in the field of sculpture and site-specific installations, Agnes Martin and Robert Ryman, together with Frank Stella, among the best-known painters.  The panorama of the European Minimalist Art was less compact  and contemporary assimilable tendencies were more tied to specific artists, like the French painter Yves Klein, the Polish Roman Opalka, or the Italians Giulio Paolini, Giorgio Griffa, Gianni Piacentino and Enrico Castellani.

Despite the Minimalist rejection of the elements of Abstract Expressionism, the Minimalist Art is profoundly indebted with abstract trends, taking abstractionism to the extreme. The precursors of minimalist tendencies can already be found in the Avant-gardes at the beginning of the 20th century. It is the case of Russian Constructivism or of the Suprematism with Kazimir Malevich, the first artist to create black monochromatic painting and to elaborate a new kind of impersonal and objective painting . Concerns similar to the minimalist ones also rooted in the European De Stijl movement, which had a similar focus on cold geometrical abstraction.

Minimalist artworks are typified by industrial and building materials (such as wood panels, metal sheets, Formica, Plexiglas, bricks, neon fluorescent tubes), the use of pure colors on surfaces and monochrome, and large geometric installations that often interact with the surrounding environment. These aesthetical and formal qualities continued with the subsequent Postminimalism.

Notable Minimalist Artists

  • Frank Stella, born May 12, 1936, American
  • Robert Morris, February 9, 1931 – November 28, 2018, American
  • Agnes Martin, March 22, 1912 – December 16, 2004, Canadian/American
  • Sol LeWitt, September 9, 1928 – April 8, 2007, American
  • Donald Judd, June 3, 1928 – February 12, 1994, American
  • Dan Flavin, April 1, 1933 – November 29, 1996, American
  • Carl Andre, born September 16, 1935, American
  • Robert Ryman, May 30, 1930 – February 8, 2019, American
  • Richard Serra, born November 2, 1938, American
  • Barnett Newman, January 29, 1905 – July 4, 1970, American
  • François Morellet, 30 April 1926 – 10 May 2016, French

Related Art Terms

  • Conceptual Art
  • Abstract Expressionism
  • Abstraction
  • Site-Specific
  • Suprematism
  • De Stijl
  • Modular
  • Monochrome
  • Installation
  • Environmental Art
  • Postminimalism