To rebel is what art does best and as such, post-minimalism needs to be understood as a reaction against the Minimalism of the late 1960s and early 1970s. Coined by the art historian and critic Robert Pincus-Witten, the term was used to describe the tendencies of the exhibiting artists at the 1966 showcase Eccentric Abstraction. Curated by Lucy Lippard, the works put on display a fresh emphasis on the process of creation, the use of nontraditional materials, more expression, and the demystification of the artistic process through an element of chance. Referring to tendencies such as Body Art, Process Art, Performance, Site-Specific art, and numerous elements of Conceptual Art, post-minimalism re-enforced the Minimalists’ interest in abstraction.
Key Issues of Post-Minimalism
From the beginning, there were various streams and points of view borrowing and being closely linked to the Minimalist movement. Numerous post-minimalism artists continued to extend the interest towards non-representational sculpture, the dominance of the materials, and the abstract and anonymous objects. On the other hand, a few artists wished to return to a more emotional and expressive quality of sculptural practice. Moving away from the industrial materials, various artists used original strategies for their creations and started using found materials. The priority of the material’s character over the artist’s intention resulted in the use of softer often unprocessed tools. The innovation in sculpture reflected the idea that post-minimalism rejected the cold, over-intellectual thoughts of the minimalist movement and allowed the objects and installation work expressive qualities. These often evoked aspects of sexuality and the body.
Admiring the break with conventional formats of painting and sculpture of the past, post-minimalism artists investigated limits of traditional creativity. Many authors believed that the chosen material dictated the character of the finished work, while others extended the sense of technique and valued the process of creation. Breaking from the traditional setting of the gallery, the period also introduced the ideas of Site-Specific art and Land art as well.
There were two exhibitions that ultimately helped distinguish minimalistic and post-minimalistic expressions. As mentioned above, the 1966 exhibition Eccentric Abstraction, curated by Lucy Lippard, featured the works of Eva Hesse, Louise Bourgeois, and Bruce Nauman. The works displayed highly personal and sensuous elements, and the heritage of the major avant-garde movements, such as Surrealism, Dada, and Expressionism was evident. At the same time, the celebration of process art and the use of soft materials exploited more relaxed and open compositions. The repetition and the modular shape of some pieces reflected the minimalist movement, but the desire to extend the interest of abstraction even further was also recflected well.
Alongside this showcase, the 1969 exhibition When Attitudes Become Form organized in London and Bern, focused more on the conceptual trends and announced that the re-shaping ideas were spreading through America and Europe as well.
Important Artists and Various Concepts
Process art, which emerged in the late 1960s was influential in shaping the ideas and works of major artists of the period in question. Valuing the act of production, it focused on works and actions exploring time, impermanence, and space. As such, Richard Serra’s throwing of lead at the walls and floor of the gallery is seen rooted in these ideas. Next to him, Eva Hesse is also influential, since her break from the minimalist cube and focus on the materials and matter makes the process of creation visible and adds the need for the sensual. The desire to move away from the tradition of the object, aided artists such as Vito Acconci, and Marina Abramovic to use their body and explore its limit in their body art. Expressing the need to reflect on the human emotions, the body art of the period was influenced by Dada and Fluxus performances. Some of the violent actions of the Viennese Actionism or the artist Chris Burden wished to comment on the society’s state at large.
In relation to sculpture production, Land art moved the works outside. The famous Spiral Jetty by Robert Smithson destroyed the traditional relationship between the object and its space. Next to him the actions of Richard Long, Gordon Matta-Clark, and Tony Cragg emphasized the waste, consumer culture, and the human impact on the environment. Alongside these innovations, the installation art of Bruce Nauman further destroyed the traditional art object. With his work, Neuman shifted the focus from himself and created elaborate pieces which required audience participation.
The progressive ideas of post-minimalism endured throughout the 1970s. The decade of the 1980s, on the other hand, marked the return of the traditional painting medium and its decline. As it is always the case, the legacy of major art periods never leaves us. The post-minimalism period laid the foundations for art beyond the tradition of the pure object or pure form. Due to this time, creativity focused on the analysis of burning issues such as politics, race, gender, sexuality, and identity was born.
Editors’ Tip: Postminimalism
Exploring the works of the major artists as Serra, Sonnier, Hesse, Tuttle, Nauman, Bochner, LeWitt,Le Va, Ferrara, Acconci, Benghs,Collins, Burton, and others, the book explores the postminimalist movement. Recording the major ideas, theory, and the innovations concerning the artistic process, the texts reflect the American art during the 1966 – 1976. In the era of change, the art reflected the need for the revolution and thought and with this book, the postminimalism period is brought closer to the reader. If you wish to learn more about the difference between minimalism and postminimalism and how art pushed the boundaries forward, then this book is a must have. Considered as the pioneering work and the first construction of the period’s history it brings the depth of the creative ideas to the surface.
- Pincuss-Witten, R., Postminimalism, Out of London Press, 1997
- Pincuss-Witten, R., Postminimalism Into Maximalism: American Art, 1966-1986 , Umi Research Press, 1987
- Lehnert, P., An American Happening: Allan Kaprow and a Theory of Process Art, University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, 1989
- Amelia, J., Body Art: Performing the Subject, Univeristy of Minesota Press, 1998