Perhaps more so than any other movement previously mentioned on this here blog, Minimalism arose organically out of several different mind’s all within a few years of each other – which is somewhat amusing seeing as there wasn’t anything natural being depicted in these works. Nor was there a salon these folks sat around in discussed the finer points of reducing everything to a canvas.
And in fact, the movement – although no one involved directly was too enthused about it being codified as such – came about as the result of a history student moving to New York in the late fifties.
Frank Stella, after a few visits to the city while attending Princeton University, set up shop in 1958, just a few years after Jackson Pollock kicked the bucket subsequent to creating some of the most controversial work of the post-war ear. In contrast to that wilder painter, Stella figured the canvas in almost mathematical terms, perhaps summoning the architecture of Mies van der Rohe. There wasn’t a representation of the world in these canvases, they were each canvases with paint on them.
Ordered in a way that makes Jasper Johns’ bull’s-eyes seem hapdash, Stella would move on to work with more colors in latter work eventually finding sculpture and any number of other art practices to his liking.
In mentioning architecture as well as Stella’s interest in working outside the world of painting, it’s imperative to note that minimalism is represented in almost any type of artistic output. In music, the early twentieth century composer Erik Satie created some of the most stark an hauntingly beautiful works for piano. During the sixties, avant garde composers engaged in various ways to cheat time by droning notes on for hours toying with harmonics along the way. Most well known are West Coast types like Terry Riley. But just as important were New Yorker’s like La Monte Young, whose work would eventually wheedle its way into punk a decade on through the work of guitarists like Rhys Chatham and others.
Fine artists persist today in roughly the same manner, though. In Chicago on Jackson St, in the Loop, a deceptively simple Sol LeWitt painting hangs between two buildings and is visible from a few different entrances/exits to the train system. Noticing LeWitt’s work, “Line in Four Directions,” work there might be difficult. But that’s almost the point. It’s just a canvas with lines on it.