History, Characteristics of Minimal Art and Architecture.

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Black Circle (1913) oil on canvas
State Russian Museum, St Petersburg
By Kasimir Malevich. One of the
greatest 20th century paintings
of the abstract movement.

For more late 20th century styles,
see: Contemporary Art.
For movements and schools, see:
Contemporary art Movements

Minimalism (1960s Onwards)

Definition and Meaning

Emerging in a coherent form in New York, during the 1960s, Minimal art, popularly known as Minimalism - but also sometimes referred to as ABC art, Cool art, Literalist art, Object art, and Primary Structure art - was a major movement of postmodernist art, specifically a style of abstract painting or sculpture characterized by extreme simplicity of form: in effect a type of visual art reduced to the essentials of geometric abstraction. Widely exhibited in the best galleries of contemporary art in America, it became an important style in New York and was marketed by several dealers including Leo Castelli. The term minimalism is usually applied to works by postmodernist artists such as Carl Andre (b.1935), Dan Flavin (1933-1996), Donald Judd (1928-1994), Ellsworth Kelly (b.1923), Sol LeWitt (b.1928), Robert Morris (b.1931), Kenneth Noland (b.1924), Richard Serra (b.1939), Tony Smith (1912-80), and Anne Truitt (b.1933); and to paintings by Robert Mangold (b.1937), Brice Marden (b.1938), Agnes Martin (b.1912), and Robert Ryman (b.1930), among others. Very often an austere, cerebral type of art, Minimalism is sometimes associated with Conceptualism - via the avant-garde composer John Cage (1912-92) - and occasionally with Land art.

For a guide to concrete and
non-objective art, see:
Abstract Paintings: Top 100.

For the chronology and dates
see: History of Art Timeline.
For a review of painting and
sculpture from 1870-1970,
see: Modern Art.
For details of individual styles
see: Modern Art Movements.

For a quick reference guide,
see: 20th Century Painters.

For details of the best modern
painters, since 1800, see:
Famous Painters.
For the best 3-D artists, see:
Greatest Sculptors.

For a guide to the best of
modern UK painters (1960-2000),
see Contemporary British Painting.

For a list of the Top 10 painters/
sculptors: Best Artists of All Time.
For the Top 100 works of sculpture
see: Greatest Sculptures Ever.

Origins and History

Minimalism derives from the minimal geometric forms of the Suprematist painter Kasimir Malevich (1878-1935), exemplified in works like Black Circle (1913, State Russian Museum, St Petersburg), and the "ready-mades" of Marcel Duchamp (1887-1968). Later pioneers included the Bauhaus/ Black Mountain College teacher Josef Albers (1888-1976), noted for his Homage to the Square series, and Ad Reinhardt (1913-67) who finally gravitated to all-black paintings in the late 1950s. As it was, the emergence of Minimalism was as much a reaction against the emotionalism of Abstract Expressionism as a culmination of a particular aesthetic. One of the first abstract painters to be specifically linked with Minimalism was the Abstract Expressionist Frank Stella (b.1936), whose black "pin-stripe" paintings made a huge impact at the 1959 art show ("16 Americans") staged by Dorothy Miller at the Museum of Modern Art in New York. Stella's minimalist works (hard-edge painting) - following in the footsteps of earlier works by Kenneth Noland, Robert Motherwell, Ralph Humphrey, and Robert Ryman - were in sharp contrast to the emotional, energy-filled paintings by Abstract Expressionists Willem de Kooning (1904-97) or Franz Kline (1910-62). Another influence on the development of minimalist painting was Ed Ruscha (b.1937). (See also: Post-Painterly Abstraction.)

Minimalism in Painting & Sculpture - Characteristics

Minimalist paintings and sculptures are generally composed of precise, hard-edged, geometric forms, with rigid planes of colour pigment - typically utilizing cool hues or maybe just one colour. They tend to consist of non-hierarchical, geometrically regular compositions, often arranged in a grid format and made from industrial materials. Whatever the precise details, the idea of this kind of non-objective art is to purge the work of any external references or gestures, such as the emotionalism of Abstract Expressionism. According to Robert Morris, one of the most influential theorists of Minimalism, in his seminal series of essays "Notes on Sculpture 1-3" (Artforum in 1966), the minimalist painter or sculptor is chiefly interested how the spectator perceives the relationship between the different parts of the work and of the parts to the whole thing. The repetition often seen in Minimalist sculpture is designed to highlight the subtle differences in this relationship. An alternative approach was outlined by Donald Judd in his paper "Specific Objects" (Arts Yearbook 8, 1965), who saw minimal art as a means of eliminating inherited artistic values from Europe, thus creating a new type of American art.

The movement was heavily criticised by a number of important art critics and historians. For instance, Michael Fried's critical article "In Art and Objecthood" (Artforum in June 1967), strongly criticised its "theatricality".

For details of the best postmodern exponents of minimalism, please see: Top Contemporary Artists.

Minimalism in Architecture

Influenced by traditional Japanese designs, the Bauhaus art school and De Stijl, Minimalist architecture, exemplified by the signature style of architect Mies van der Rohe, which he describes as "Less is more", refers to building designs that are reduced to the absolute bare minimum of elements. Minimalist architectural design typically uses basic geometric shapes, harmonious colours, natural textures, open-plan spatial arrangements, neat and straight components, clean finishes, flat or nearly flat roofs, large windows and satisfying negative spaces. Noted minimalist designers include American architects like Ludwig Mies van der Rohe (1886-1969), Philip Johnson (1906-2005), Raymond Hood (1881-1934) and Louis Skidmore (1897-1962), to name but a few. For more details, see: American Architecture. In the 1980s, a new generation of Zen Buddhism-influenced Japanese architects appeared, including: Kazuo Shinohara (b.1925), Fumihiko Maki (b.1928), Arata Isozaki (b.1931) and Tadeo Ando (b.1941). Other minimalist architectural designers include: Alberto Campo Baeza, Michael Gabellini, Richard Gluckman, Hugh Newell Jacobsen, Eduardo Souto de Moura, John Pawson, Claudio Silvestrin, Vincent Van Duysen, Alvaro Siza Vieira, and Peter Zumthor. For the effect of minimalism on supertall buildings, the dominant form of urban art in America, see: Skyscraper Architecture (1850-present).

Collections of Minimal Art

Key collections of this kind of concrete art can be found at the following places, and in many of the best art museums devoted to late 20th century works.

- Chinati Foundation (Marfa, Texas).
- Modern Art Museum of Fort Worth (Texas).
- Montclair Art Museum (New Jersey)
- Museum of Modern Art (New York)
- Guggenheim Museum (New York)
- Museum Boijimans van Beuningen (Rotterdam, The Netherlands)
- Pinakothek der Moderne (Munich, Germany)
- Guggenheim Bilbao (Spain)
- Tate Modern (London)

Late 20th Century Types of Minimal Art

Just when you thought it was safe, along comes two more buzzwords to do with Minimalism. Are they important? Are they worth studying? You decide. Frankly, I'm all done with minimal art. It all sounds rather interesting but in the flesh it can be a major disappointment. (Mind you, so can Picasso!)


Neo-minimalism is a rather vaguely defined art style/movement of the late 20th, early 21st centuries, in painting, sculpture, architecture, design, and music. It is sometimes referred to as "neo-geo", "Neo-Conceptualism", "Neo-Futurism", "New Abstraction", "Poptometry", "Post-Abstractionism", "Simulationism", and "Smart Art". Contemporary artists who are supposedly associated with the term, include David Burdeny, Catharine Burgess, Marjan Eggermont, Paul Kuhn, Eve Leader, Tanya Rusnak, Laurel Smith, Christopher Willard, and Time Zuck.


Post-Minimalism describes attempts to go beyond the idiom of minimalism,in architecture or the visual arts. In simple terms, 1960s minimalism is a rather intellectual style of art characterized by extreme simplicity of form and a deliberate lack of expressive content. Minimalist artists were only interested in presenting a pure "idea". In Post-Minimalism (1971 onwards), the focus shifts from the purity of the idea, to HOW it is conveyed.

Postminimalism is associated with the following contemporary artists: Tom Friedman, Felix Gonzalez-Torres, Eva Hesse, Matthew Kandegas, Anish Kapoor, Wolfgang Laib, Joseph Nechvatal, Damian Ortega, Martin Puryear, Charles Ray, Joel Shapiro, Keith Sonnier, Cecil Touchon, Richard Tuttle, Richard Wentworth, Rachel Whiteread and Hannah Wilke, among others.

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