Art emerged as a movement in the 1950s and continued through the Sixties
and Seventies. It is sometimes called ABC art, minimal art, reductivism,
and rejective art. 'Minimalism' is a word we frequently hear used
outside the world art, and is therefore perhaps more familiar to us than
some other art terms. It is often used in discussion about style in
general: for example a chic sparse interior with white walls and simple
furniture may be described as 'minimalist'. It is also sometimes used in
a humorous or disparaging sense to describe something that is less than
expected or under par. Minimal art is characterized by its simplicity
in both form and content, where personal expression is removed in order
to achieve this.
An American-born movement, Minimalism stemmed mostly from the work of Frank Stella, whose Black Paintings (shown above) were first exhibited at the Museum of Modern Art in New York in 1959, inspiring many artists to turn away from the expressive art of the past. Although it was never an organized, self-proclaimed movement, Minimalist art became dominant in sculpture and installation work, although there are multiple Minimalist painters.
The 1966 exhibition in New York entitled "Primary Structures" was a key event in the history of the movement. Minimalist art was normally precise and hard-edged. It incorporated geometric forms often in repetitive patterns and solid planes of color, normally cool hues or unmixed colors straight from the tube. Often based on a grid and mathematically composed, the use of industrial materials was common in order to eliminate the evidence of the artist’s hand. Minimalist art strived to create an object with presence, something that can be seen at its basic physical appearance and appreciated at face value.
Minimalism flourished in the 1960s and 1970s with Donald Judd, Dan Flavin, Carl Andre, Sol LeWitt and Robert Morris becoming the movement's most important innovators. We usually think of art as representing an aspect of the real world, a landscape, a person, or even a tin of soup or reflecting an experience such as an emotion or feeling. With Minimalism, no attempt is made to represent an outside reality, the artist wants the viewer to respond only to what is in front of them. The medium, from which it is made, and the form of the work is the reality.
Minimalist painter Frank Stella famously said about his paintings 'What you see is what you see'. The intention of minimalist artists is to allow the audience to view a composition more intensely because the distractions of a theme has been removed. Minimalist artists, such as Judd and Andre, also rejected the notion of the artwork as a unique creation reflecting the personal expression of a gifted individual. They saw the importance bestowed on the hand of the artist in the creation of a work of art as a distraction from the art object itself. Instead they created objects that were as impersonal and neutral as possible, with the aim that the viewer should have a more pure reaction to the art object itself.
Ad Reinhardt, actually an artist of the Abstract Expressionist generation, but one whose reductive all-black paintings seemed to anticipate minimalism, had this to say about the value of a reductive approach to art: "The more stuff in it, the busier the work of art, the worse it is. More is less. Less is more. The eye is a menace to clear sight. The laying bare of oneself is obscene. Art begins with the getting rid of nature."
Minimalist artists of the time reacted against Abstract Expressionism, which is demonstrated by the stark canvases, simple installations, and minimalist sculptures. The Minimalist movement is similar to Conceptual Art in that the outcome is used to express a theory. Minimalism is also similar to Pop Art because of the impersonal attitude.