Written for the exhibition Minimalism at the Columbus Museum of Art by Annegreth Nill, Curator of Twentieth Century and Contemporary Art (1997)

Minimalism had its origin in the 1960s, but has remained relevant to artists to this day. This gallery installation illustrates this point by including two young artists whose work has its roots in minimalism along with five pioneers of the movement.

Although the term minimalism applies to both painting and sculpture, it is most significantly associated with three-dimensional objects, especially those of artists Donald Judd, Carl Andre, Dan Flavin, Sol LeWitt, and Jackie Winsor, all exhibited here. What distinguishes their work, and therefore minimalism, is its unitary, largely geometric character; the fact that the parts of each individual object have a logical, self-evident relationship to the whole through repetition and/or progressions; the frequent use of industrial materials such as aluminum, steel, and fluorescent lights; and the suppression of the individual artist’s hand through the use of the processes of industrial fabrication. The resulting stripped-down, impersonal quality of minimal art is intended to elicit an intellectual response from the viewer, rather than an emotional one based on personal associations.

The human scale of the minimal objects serves to directly engage the viewer with the sculpture in a one-on-one relationship. As one walks around, along, or on top of the objects, one literally experiences the work as a presence in space and time. This phenomenon, which has been called the “theatricality” of the minimalist object, created the basis for performance art in which the artist uses his/her own body to communicate directly with the viewer. “Performance Still,” by the young Palestinian artist Mona Hatoum, makes this point directly by showing her walking on a Carl Andre-like grid. The mounted photograph is a document of a performance that took place in Brixton, England, in 1985. The metaphor of the vulnerability of bare feet dragging combat boots was meant to evoke the universal conditions of physical oppression and resistance.

Finally, certain minimalist objects question the distinction between painting (traditionally a two-dimensional depiction of something in the real world) and sculpture (a three-dimensional object in space). Through their elongated, horizontal structure and eye-level installation, Donald Judd and Dan Flavin make literal references in their “sculpture” to the horizon line found in landscape painting. Columbus artist Laura Bidwa continues the dialogue between painting and sculpture by combining the two. Her shelf-like object calls for the viewer to approach the work in order to view it properly. This artistic strategy creates an intimate viewing situation, while the “painting” itself—a reflection of the sky—allows for the contemplation of the infinite.