By Dawn Watson
If representational art were music, then minimalism would be punk rock.
Actually, it would be more apt to call minimalism proto-punk, since the art form—a rejection of conventional boundaries, emotional content and overt symbolism, particularly as it related to abstract expressionism—pre-dated the beginnings of the similarly themed musical movement by more than a decade. Setting out to expose the essence of an object, the visual medium was reactionary, in-your-face and a direct challenge to preexisting mores.
Exploring the movement and the artists best known for their contribution, Guild Hall in East Hampton has mounted “Aspects of Minimalism: Selections from East End Collections,” which is on view from Saturday, August 13, through October 10. The group exhibit showcases a range of works by preeminent minimalist artists, including Larry Bell, Dan Flavin, Robert Irwin, Donald Judd and Agnes Martin, as well as those influenced by minimalism, including Josef Albers, Binky Palermo, Joseph Beuys, On Kawara, Gerhard Richter, Bridget Riley, Edward Rusha, Andy Warhol and Rachel Whiteread.
As all of the artists whose work will be shown are no longer living, the pieces selected are on loan from collectors with a passion for
minimalist works and works that echo minimalist ideas or materials, reports Guild Hall’s Museum Director and Chief Curator Christina Mossaides Strassfield, who curated the exhibit. The iconoclasts might be gone they most definitely have not been forgotten, especially now that their creations are on display for what will be the East End’s first comprehensive exhibition on the subject.
Characterized by the use of prefabricated industrial materials and simple geometric forms, minimalist works were created to provoke the viewer and to often demand a physical and visual response. Not necessarily everyone’s cup of tea, the movement nonetheless marked an important moment in America’s artistic timeline, says Ms. Strassfield.
“It is a movement that really went against the Abstract Expressionist and Pop art and wanted to create a new language and vision,” she says. It is not a movement that everyone embraces. It went against our traditional notions of beauty in art and materials that art could be created from … It is challenging to the viewer and requires thought.”
Just because it can be difficult for the casual viewer doesn’t mean that minimalism should be avoided, however, she adds. Understanding what came before it, and drawing connections from the resulting reactions later is the cornerstone of a good foundation of education for anyone interested in contemporary art.
“I think every knowledgeable artist is influenced by what has come before them,” she says. “In the case of minimalism I would say the type of materials used and the absence of the human element or hand has left its marks on the next and future generations.”
Take the fluorescent tube sculpture installations of Mr. Flavin, for instance. Best known for his partnership with the Dia Art Foundation in Manhattan and the Dan Flavin Art Institute in Bridgehampton, it’s not much of a stretch to see how the artist— a former mail clerk at the Guggenheim Museum and guard and elevator operator at the Museum of Modern Art who lived in Wainscott and later in Riverhead until his death in 1996—might possibly have paved the way for work that is successful today. For example, Mr. Flavin’s groundbreaking use of commercial light fixtures might have possibly influenced the creation of, or the understanding we have, of contemporary work such as the light-filled video installations of Christine Sciulli, who lives on Shelter Island, or the neon-and-mirror works of Southampton-based Tapp Francke—neither of whose work is included in this exhibition.
Highlighting that fact of influence, however, the exhibit does contain the work of other well-known figures influenced by the Minimalist aesthetic. Spanning six decades, the exhibit—which fills Guild Hall’s galleries in a brand-new minimalist way, as the center walls have been removed in order to best showcase the work—begins with pieces from the late 1950s and concludes with work relevant to the Minimalist aesthetic from the 1990s and 2000s.
“We are fortunate to offer visitors the rare opportunity to view many stellar works by the movement’s pioneers alongside works by equally important contemporary artists influenced by the Minimalist aesthetic,” Ms. Strassfield notes. “This dynamic dialogue highlights the extraordinary impact of Minimalism on the history of modern art and its relevance today.”
“Aspects of Minimalism: Selections from East End Collections“ opens with a reception on Saturday, August 13, from from 4 to 6 p.m. The group exhibition remains on view through October 10. A number of talks and workshops will be held in conjunction with the exhibit. Learn more at www.guildhall.org.