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Minimalism, Conceptualism and Critics

May 5, 2008

In the weekend roundup on Modern Art Notes today (5/5) this article by Alan Artner from the Chicago Tribune caused the blog author Tyler Green to complain: “I hate it when art critics get preachy-educational, learn-this-because-it’s-good-for-you. Guess what? It’s OK if not everyone gets or likes minimalism or abex or whatever.”

In this case I think that Green missed the point of the article, that is Artner wasn’t telling people they had to like it, he was using his position as critic in a major newspaper to spread information to people who don’t understand minimalism. And I have to agree with him, minimalism and conceptualism are incredibly misunderstood by not only wider public but even by critics, which was one of my issues with the Amy Sillman review. At the Art Institute they have a piece by Donald Judd that is a perfect example of why Artner wrote this article. It is a triangular, plywood box the bottom of which slopes up midway on one of the angles. Every time I am looking at the piece, usually about 5-10 people come up, look in the box, see it is empty and move on. They have totally missed the point and now dismissed the artist and art. This is exactly what Artner is addressing when he says:

Our limitation—not the works’: Casual viewers balk at art that expresses nothing but itself. But all honest art is first about itself. What it may tell us about the world comes after considerations of shape, color, proportion and so on. And such considerations make the art. If we’re focused only on an artwork’s effect on us, we may find what makes a piece boring. But that is our limitation, not the works’, which may be extraordinary in thought and how they’re put together, apart from their immediate effect on viewers. So it is within the compass of Minimal art.

He’s not chiding people for disliking minimalism, he’s urging them to slow down, examine the work in detail, think about it. Which are all necessary to really enjoying minimalist work. When the average museum -goer spends something like 10 seconds or less in front of a painting on average, it is no surprise people are confused about minimalism, a form that requires more than a quick glance.

I guess I shouldn’t even raise the question about whether this is an article, a whole conversation, on conceptualism rather than minimalism, as Sol LeWitt wrote: “there has been much written about minimal art, but I have not discovered anyone who admits to doing this kind of thing.”

2 Comments leave one →
  1. May 5, 2008 9:21 am

    Yes, but art criticism is not art education. An art critic’s job is not to educate his unwashed readers. Christopher Knight did a fine piece on this a few years ago. Alas, it isn’t online.


  1. The Critic in the 21st Century (Newspaper) « The Chicago Art Blog

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