Introduction to Minimalist Artists


Before this post I only knew of a handful of minimalists. I have done some exploring and taken notes to give you a glimpse of minimalist art and those who have made significant contributions to the movement.

After even a tad more research, I find this form of art easier to appreciate. The meaning and significance comes largely from context. This contrasts with other genres of art, whose meaning and context can more immediately be understood visually (e.g. certain figures, objects or landscapes). The technique and materials minimalists use can also be quite non-traditional. As a result, the skill or innovation needed in the construction may be harder to recognise. We are traditionally more aware of the challenges and techniques in manipulating paint.

Carl Andre

  • First exhibited publicly in 1965
  • criticised for “showy work which may well be regarded in a few decades as trash”
  • “Andre’s use of common industrial materials was radical at the time, and he arranged them on-site in grids or in other simple geometric configurations. The artist made space itself his primary concern and celebrated materials for their own sake, two traits embraced by innumerable younger artists.”
  • In 1970 the Guggenheim gave him his first solo museum show and two years later, Tate’s purchase of “Equivalent VIII” led to controversy.
    • Tate supported Andre’s work stating that it is “an iconic piece that highlights the trajectory of the history of art”
  • Materiality is at the core of Andre’s work
    • wood, iron, steel
  • Andre grew up in Massachusetts- surrounded by granite mines and shipyards- and his father worked as a draughtsman
  • Arrangement is not as crucial as the use of material
  • Many of the materials he used were picked up from the streets
  • Andre made sculptures but also enjoyed typing out poems
    • “Whole poems are made out of many single poems we call words … I am trying to recover a part of the poet’s work which has been lost. Our first poets were the namers, not the rhymers.” – Andre
  • Opinion: “While he uses notions of meaninglessness as a way of commenting on culture’s gruesome obsession with literalness, it is a little self-dramatising of him to say his work is entirely without meaning. “
  • Some of Andre’s work: “Uncarved Blocks” (1975), “Twelfth Copper Corner” (1975), and “Pyramus and Thisbe” (1990)



Independent  ; Paris Review ; The Guardian ; Hyperallergic ; Haber Arts ; Financial Times

Richard Serra

  • Important artist of the 20th century
  • Serra was “born in San Francisco to working-class European immigrants.”
  • One of his most controversial public works was called “Tilted Arc” (1981) (Bottom left image), located in Federal Plaza of New York City. The curving wall of raw steel was 120 feet long and 12 feet high, requiring pedestrians to walk around the huge artwork in order to get from one side to the other. The artwork cut the space of the Federal Plaza in half. In 1985, a jury decided that this piece was to be dismantled and removed.  
  • Defending “Tilted Arc” (1981), Serra said, “the experience of art itself is a social function.” He added that “The viewer becomes aware of himself and of his movement through the plaza. As he moves, the sculpture changes. Contraction and expansion of the sculpture result from the viewer’s movement. Step by step the perception not only of the sculpture but of the entire environment changes.”
  • After the fiasco : “For a long time Serra’s work was held to illustrate the tensions that surround public art, its funding, its responsibility and its execution.”
  • “Serra’s ‘big epiphany as an artist’ occurred when, on a fleeting visit to Spain, he saw Velazquez’s astonishing painting Las Meninas for the first time.” He says it was because the art threw him into a state of confusion and gave him a radically new way of viewing art.
  • The “Matter of Time” (2005) (Bottom right image) is one of Serra’s famous works that stands as a centrepiece of the Guggenheim collection in Bilbao.


Sources: ; The Guardian ; Image Journal ; Wall Street Journal ; Gagosian ; PBS

Donald Judd

  • Important artist of the 1960s and of the postwar period
  • Judd reduces forms to the point of abstraction and is known for extremely geometric sculptures
  • He is best known for his “stacked” works (repeated units)
    • “Donald Judd prides himself on the fact that in his ‘stack sculptures’ the empty space between the boxes is an integral part of the sculpture as a whole.”
  • Judd pushed the minimalist movement to go beyond Abstract Expressionist (“AbEx”), which had long dominated the American arts scene.
  • Before being known as an artist, Judd was an acclaimed critic. He wrote significant pieces in the early 1960s and his 1965 essay “Specific Objects” explains the minimalist thinking.
  • “Judd was notoriously focused on the particularities of installation spaces.”
  • “Pollock and Barnett Newman had important influences on Judd”
  • “There is an ultra-refinement in much of the work as, for example, in his Untitled (1989) in aluminum and blue Plexiglas or in his extraordinary five-unit floor piece, Untitled (1991), in milled aluminum. Even in the plywood structures, we sense Judd’s dedication to precision in the angles and the cuts.” (Untitled (1989) is the image to the bottom left; Untitled (1991) to the bottom right)
  • Judd often used plywood, galvanised iron, stainless steel, plexiglass and enamelled or anodized aluminium.
  • Judd founded Chinati Foundation, a contemporary art museum
  • He “fundamentally believed that the placement of a work of art is as critical to our understanding of it as the work itself”



Sculpture Centre ; ; Stefan Beyst ; Sight Unseen ; Telegraph ; Art News

Frank Stella

  • Frank Stella graduated from Princeton University and almost immediately became known as an artist
  • Mr. Stella was born in 1936 in Malden, Mass., and he arrived in New York in 1958
  • He was the first artist to receive a one-person retrospective at the new Whitney Museum of American Art
  • “The Black Paintings,” created from 1958 to 1959, remain Stella’s most famed works
    • Opinion: “The Black Paintings are as much Rothko as Johns in their moody and ambiguous depth,”
  • He made works referencing the hundred and thirty-five chapters of “Moby-Dick” in the 80s and 90s
  • 1964 proclamation that, in his paintings, “what you see is what you see” became a minimalist motto
  • ‘The titles function as apostrophes of meaning. Meaning exists. It’s just not “what you see,” except through tortuous efforts of association.’
  • Opinion on Stella’s use of titles: “They redound with exotic literary references and spicy political intimations (the names of Arab philosophers, Polish synagogues, chapters of Moby Dick), tempting the viewer with the promise of some secret buried extra-formal drama that is, for the most part, not there.”
  • At his talk at Harvard University, Stella admitted that abstract painting had become too cipher-like to communicate on a human level with a wide audience.
  • Stella, in thinking about the grand masters of Abstract Expressionism, wrote “I sensed a hesitancy, a doubt of some vague dimension which made their work touching, but to me somehow too vulnerable.”



Wall Street Journal ; Art News ; The New Yorker ; Artnet News ; Wall Street Journal ; The New York Times

Sol LeWitt

  • LeWitt wrote two texts core to his thoughts on the artistic process: “Paragraphs on Conceptual Art” and “Sentences on Conceptual Art”
    • One of LeWitt’s most famous assertions in“Paragraphs on Conceptual Art”  was that “the idea becomes a machine that makes the art.”
  • At the time LeWitt was writing this seminal texts, he was exploring simple geometric forms. By the 1960s, LeWitt was fascinated by the cube.
  • First series artworks were made in the mid-1960s. For example, Drawing Series IV/12 B/2431 (1969). Here, LeWitt looks at how many combinations there are for suggesting the shape of a cube.
  • Worked under the premise that the artist should not control how the viewer perceives the artwork. There is a trust between the observer and the artist: “Ideas cannot be owned. They belong to whomever understands them.” -Sol LeWitt
  • Work often was inscribed with descriptions that explained the logic of his work. The instructional descriptions also gave viewers insight on LeWitt’s artistic process. This can be seen in “Lines From the World” (1972) where he wrote “Blue lines to 4 corners, green line to 4 sides, and red lines between the words.”
  • Explored curved lines and amorphous forms.
  • “My thinking derived from Muybridge and the idea of seriality, from music.” – LeWitt
  • “What it looked like wasn’t important. It didn’t matter what you did as long as the lines were distributed randomly throughout the area. In many of the wall pieces there is very little latitude for the draftsman or draftswoman to make changes, but it is evident anyway, visually, that different people make different works. I have done other pieces that give the draftsperson a great liberty in interpreting an action. In this way the appearance of the work is secondary to the idea of the work, which makes the idea of primary importance. The system is the work of art; the visual work of art is the proof of the system. The visual aspect can’t be understood without understanding the system. It isn’t what it looks like but what it is that is of basic importance.” -LeWitt in Bomb interview



Bomb ; The Guardian ; The New Criterion ; The New York Times ; It’s Nice That

Tony Smith

  • Was an architect for 20 years
  • Known for his large geometric shapes
  • “A self-taught maverick and mystic, he referred to his buildings as designs and his sculptures as presences”
    • “I was just thinking about form,” he said. “They just exist…They are just present” he stated in an interview
  • In “The Pattern of Organic Life in America” (1943) Smith writes “lack of any integrating and unifying element, any myth, any bible by which we can relate and interpret the complexity of our vast experience,” thereby encouraging abstraction.”The Pattern of Organic Life in America” was an unpublished manuscript.
  • The artwork “Bennington Structure” (1961) marks Smith’s turning point from architecture to sculpture
  • Studied under Frank Lloyd Wright
    • “While he was in Chicago, Smith read and was impressed by the January 1938 issue of Architectural Forum, which was designed by Frank Lloyd Wright and devoted to Wright’s work. Smith asked Wright for a job, and joined the Master Builder’s team”
  • pursued careers in painting and teaching
  • Became friends with Abstract Expressionist artists Barnett Newmann, Jackson Pollock, Mark Rothko, and Clyfford Still
  • “in 1967 he made the cover of TIME Magazine as ‘Master of the Monumentalists.’ He had become an international sensation. A major retrospective at the Museum of Modern Art, New York, in 1998 introduced Smith’s daring work to a new generation of viewers.”



International Sculpture Centre ; Tony Smith South Orange; artnet

Anne Truitt

  • One of the three women exhibited in “Primary Structures” Jewish Museum in 1966
  • “Raised on the eastern shore of Maryland, Truitt got her BA in psychology and worked as a Red Cross nurse’s aid before attending art school for a short time.”
  • First solo show was at André Emmerich Gallery in New York.
  • “she used color not only to create form and space, but also to coax something more visceral from the act of looking at art.”
  • July 2, 1974, Truitt wrote in her diary: “I do not understand why I seem able to make what people call art. For many long years I struggled to learn how to do it, and I don’t even know why I struggled. Then, in 1961, at the age of forty, it became clear to me that I was doing work I respected within my own strictest standards.”
    • In Truitt’s diary she also discusses “contradictions of commercial art and the conflicting forces of authenticity and pragmatism that often force upon artists the choice between creative authenticity and commercial success”
  • Trained as a clinical psychologist
  • Why she left psychology for art: “the clearest beacons of aspiration that I had in my own life, I found in the work of artists — writers as well as sculptors and painters.”
  • “Her eyesight was so poor when she was a child that until she got glasses she didn’t realize trees had individual leaves. She saw them as large masses of color and form, which some critics have suggested was an influence on her later work.”
  • Published three autobiographical books, each subtitled “The Journal of an Artist.” They are titled Daybook (Pantheon, 1982), Turn (Viking, 1986), and Prospect (Scribner, 1996). In them, she explores womanhood, aging and art.
  • “Mrs. Truitt resisted the connection [to minimalism] because her work was painstakingly made by her own hand rather than through the industrial processes that are the hallmark of minimalism.”
  • “It’s the human experience that is distilled into art that makes it great” – Anne Truitt



Artsy ; Brain Pickings ; Washington Post ; Smithsonian ; Artopia ; Anne Truitt ; Modern Women Book

Agnes Martin

  • “Her art (depending on who is looking at it) has been called minimal, classical or romantic”
  • Grids are characteristic of Martin’s signature and style
  • “I think that in order to be an artist, you have to move. When you stop moving, then you’re no longer an artist. And if you move from somebody else’s position, you simply cannot know the next step. I think that everyone is on his own line. I think that after you’ve made one step, the next step reveals itself.” – Agnes Martin
  • Born into a poor prairie farming community in Saskatchewan, Canada
  • Immigrated to the United States in 1932 in the hopes of becoming a teacher
  • “A psychotic episode led to Martin’s hospitalisation in Bellevue in the mid-1960s, and in 1967 she left New York on an extended road trip, stopping painting for a number of years, before settling outside Taos, New Mexico, where she had worked as a teacher in the 1950s.”
  • “she absorbed principles of Taoist and Zen philosophy that would thenceforth guide her thinking, or, more accurately, her refusals of thought, even as she developed sternly logical solutions to the problems of painting”
  • Wrote an essay titled “On the Perfection Underlying Life” in 1973
  • “Martin often described a painting from 1964, The Tree, as her first grid. In fact, she had been making them since at least the beginning of the decade, first by scratching lattices into paint and then by pencilling ruled vertical and horizontal lines on to canvases, sometimes embellishing the hatchings with dabs or lines of colour, even sheets of gold leaf.”
  • Refused the influence of personal experience in her art. She emphasizes a strict separation between art and life.



Art News ; The Guardian ; The Guardian ; The New Yorker ; LA Review of Books

Nasreen Mohamedi

  • Born in Karachi (Pakistan) in 1937 and raised in Bombay
  • Studied at Central Saint Martin’s in London from 1954 to 1957
  • “Made small, abstract, linear drawings and took black-and-white photographs.”
  • Influenced by Sufism and Zen Buddhism, as well as Paul Klee and Henri Michaux, and Indian painter V.S. Gaitonde
  • “One of the first Muslim women in modern India to pursue a career in fine arts”
  • Worked almost exclusively on paper and predominantly in greys and blacks.
  • “She led a minimalistic life, which she believed de-cluttered the brain allowing for pure and natural creativity and thought. Although her early work in the 1950s and 1960s was much more gestural and less minimalistic, there is a sense of purity in movement and space.”
  • Her works are typically small (no bigger than 50 by 50 centimetres)
  • Much of her work is left without a name or date
  • “While most of her South Asian contemporaries were producing colourful, representational works, Mohamedi dealt in the muted and abstract.”
  • Her photography also highlights the geometric forms and architectural landscape of her drawings.
  • “Mohamedi’s diaries not only reveal her preoccupations as an artist (one page on display is entirely blacked out except for the phrase, ‘A NEED FOR REAL AUSTERITY’), but also lend a window into the artist’s personality. ‘You learn a certain amount from the diaries about her single mindedness, about her toughness with herself,’ Wagstaff said. ‘She didn’t give herself any slack. She was constantly saying to herself: this needs to be better, I have to rethink this.’ “


Boston Globe ; Art Review ; Art Radar ; New York Times- Women in The World

Other significant Minimalist: Dan Flavin, Robert Morris

Excellent source for anything minimalist: Understanding Minimalism

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