Minimalism as a genre occupies various forms of expression across art, design, music, and literature. Developed in the United States in the 1960s, it surfaced as a reaction to Abstract Expressionism. Minimalist artists sought to move away from the expressive characteristics of Abstract Expressionism as they felt those works to be too excessive and emotional, and that they detracted from the essence of art itself. Minimalist artists, in complete contrast, were composed of simple lines and forms. All the elements of expression, biography, complex subjects, and social agendas are removed, leaving viewers to interpret their works for what they are - a purified form of beauty and truth.
Due to such a strong focus on basic elements, Minimalist Art was and is known as ABC Art. Many of the most prominent Minimalist artists were sculptors, and Minimalism also grew to transpire across other genres such as Land Art, where artworks are made in landscapes, creating sculptures on and from the earth. Minimalism also constituted the light and space movement, with many Minimalist artists finding their practice at its interstice.
Many have argued that Minimalism has its roots in Asia with many Western artists such as Agnes Martin taking on influences of Zen Buddhism in their practice. Many Minimalist artists were also influenced by the notion of ‘nothingness’ derived from Hindu scriptures. One of the biggest Minimalist movements in Asia was Mono-ha, Japan’s first internationally acknowledged movement in contemporary art. Mono-ha, or ‘School of Things’, was a pioneering art movement initiated in Tokyo in the mid-1960s. Led by artists Lee Ufan and Nobuo Sekine, the Mono-ha group was one of many groups engaged in ‘not making’. These groups rejected traditional ideas of representation so as to reveal the world through engaging with materials and their properties, as in similar fashion with that of Western Minimalism.
The Artling brings you the most famous Minimalist artworks that underline the genre of Minimalism, including paintings and sculptures that that broke down traditional notions of art as they blurred the distinctions between the two.
Frank Stella, Whitney Museum, Gansevoort Street, New York City. Image courtesy of John St John.
A painter, sculptor, and printmaker, Frank Stella is considered to be one of the most influential living American artists. His striped works and monumental prints revolutionized artistic practices in relation to not only Minimalism but also Abstraction. Whilst he cites abstract artists such as Pollock and Kline as his influences, he grew to become one of the founding fathers of Minimalism.
‘Die Fahne Hoch!’ Was named after the official marching song of the Nazis, but appears to be meaningless with the exception of its title. It is one a work within a larger series of black paintings by Stella. In this painting, the lighter lines are in fact raw canvas that was left blank between its broad black stripes. This monochromatic work is one of the best-known works to challenge the Abstract Expressionist movement.
Robert Morris, Untitled (mirrored cubes) (1965/71). Image courtesy of the Tate.
‘Untitled (mirrored cubes)’ not only exemplified Robert Morris as a Minimalist artist, but also a Conceptual one. Morris was performing at a ballet company when he came across large grey painted plywood boxes as stage props. Taking them to his practice, he covered these boxes in mirrors, advancing their visual properties and altering the modes of perception that surrounded them. Walking around these boxes, viewers are forced to confront themselves in their reflections. Suddenly, the act of admiring an artwork is cut by the act of looking. It has been cited to “invade” a gallery space due to this nature, evolving the experience of art beyond the visual.
Agnes Martin, With my Back to the World series (1997)
Agnes Martin made works that were non-representational, yet their titles highlighted a strong allure to nature. Martin was known for the grid work in her paintings that blend together Minimalism and Colour Field. She used these grids as an organizational element to her works, creating infinite variations of calming canvases with subtle colors.
Thoroughly influenced by Zen Buddism and Taoism, Martin also led a hermetic lifestyle in New Mexico for most of her life. She was also diagnosed with schizophrenia in her 40s. ‘With my Back to the World’ was made in her mid-80s while she lived in an assisted living facility. Her pastel bands of blue, peach and yellow continued to highlight how art was exclusive of the corrupt outside world, as she reduced her the sizes of her canvases to handle them with more ease.
Ellsworth Kelly, Red Yellow Blue II (1953). Image courtesy of the Art Institute of Chicago.
Having served in the second World War, Ellsworth Kelly took his observations of nature and architectural forms to mature his practice in experimental ways. Through a rigorous study of abstraction, his paintings and sculptures went on to develop Minimalism as a whole. The ‘Red Yellow Blue’ series affected the course of color-field painting and was created as Kelly began to “uncover the nearly infinite possibilities of monochrome, color spectrum, chance ordering, and multi-panel composition.”
‘Red Yellow Blue II’ is composed of seven panels, with a black panel in the center the divides yet joins the three panels on its either side. Two blue panels unify the sequence on both ends, underlining Kelly’s understanding of composition. This painting is the largest out of the works he made during his time in Paris and is considered to be one of his finest and most influential works on canvas.
Sol LeWitt – Wall Drawing #260 at San Francisco Museum of Art, 1975
Sol LeWitt – Wall Drawing #340, July 1980
Sol LeWitt – Wall Drawing #1138: Forms composed of bands of color, 2004, Acrylic paint, Lisson Gallery, London
Sol LeWitt created 1,350 wall drawings across the four decades of his career, comprising roughly 3,500 installations at over 1,200 venues. These drawings were anything from straight lines in black pencil lead, to colorful wavy rendered lines, to monochromatic geometric forms, to bright panels in acrylic paint. He allowed others to help him execute these works as he, in line with notions of Minimalism, rejected the traditional importance of an artist’s own hand. His Wall Drawings were explorations into architecture and art, as they took on the forms of respective spaces that they were made in.
Although Lewitt passed away in 2007, his works live on as a result of his artistic ethos. These days, a handful of artists exist who withhold the right to recreate his Wall Drawings allowing them to adorn the walls of institutions around the world.
Judy Chicago, installation view of Rainbow Pickett (background) and Trinity (foreground). Image courtesy of the artist.
Created for her first solo show at the Rolf Nelson Gallery in Los Angeles in January 1966, Rainbow Pickett is a room-sized sculptural installation composed of six trapezoids of different colors and lengths. This work was also shown at the foundational exhibition, ‘Primary Structures’ at the Jewish Museum, where critic Clement Greenberg stated that it was one of the best works in the space. It was reconstructed in 2004 as the original ‘Rainbow Pickett’ was destroyed by Chicago due to hefty storage costs, later becoming the hallmark piece for LAMOCA’s ‘A Minimal Future? Art as Object, 1958-1968’.
By creating works that test the limits of color through her self-designed diagrams and spatial patterning, Judy Chicago grew to be known as a pioneering Minimal and Feminist artist.
Dan Flavin, Untitled (in honor of Harold Joachim) 3 (1977). Image courtesy of the Pulitzer Arts Foundation.
‘Untitled (in honor of Harold Joachim) 3’ is one of many works made by Dan Flavin composed of fluorescent light and metal fixtures. For over three decades, Flavin explored the artistic possibilities of fluorescent light, limiting his practice to commercially available materials. Rejecting the aforementioned notions of Abstract Expressionism, he took to using such hardware and inserted them into the world of high art. Incredibly straightforward, this work also embodies a deep sophistication.
Flavin’s light works wash walls with colors and go beyond the space they inhabit. They also go beyond their sculptural entity to bathe visitors in warm and artificial glows, creating experiences around them.
Eva Hesse, Untitled (Rope Piece) (1970). Image courtesy of Columbia University.
A German-born American sculptor, Eva Hesse is best-known for her pioneering work in latex, fiberglass, and plastic. She is also known as one of the artists who ushered in the post-minimal art movements in the 1960s. In the spirit of Minimalism, Hesse’s practice explored how the simplest of materials could be used to exemplify much more.
‘Untitled (Rope Piece)’ was made in 1970 as Hesse was dying, as was finished with the help of her friends. Made with latex over rope, string, and wire, it mimics a tangled drawing in space, suspended from the ceiling. Standing out from the traditional neatness of Minimalism, it is through its modes of composition that allows it to be perceived within the genre.
Donald Judd, Untitled (1980). Image courtesy of the Tate.
Donald Judd strongly disavows his association with Minimalism, yet is known as one of its founding fathers. He abandoned his practice as a painter for sculpture in the early 1960s and went on to uncover a personal rejection of European artistic values. He began fabricating works that could not be classified as painting or sculpture. Like Ellsworth Kelly, Judy Chicago, Sol Lewitt, and Dan Flavin, his works were exhibited at the seminal 1966 exhibit ‘Primary Structures’ at the Jewish Museum in New York.
In the 1980s, Judd began creating vertically suspended stacks such as ‘Untitled (1980). These works, still unable to be classified as painting or sculpture, created a new vocabulary of art due to their experiential nature. Using two different materials, aluminum and Plexiglass, this work offers viewers two conflicting experiences - opaque intrusive forms from the side, and obscure depths of space from the front.
Now that you're here, why not check out these Minimal artworks by Asian contemporary artists? If you would like to learn more about the Minimalism, do read our Minimalism 101 - A Guide to Minimalist Art.
Any views or opinions in the post are solely those of the authors and do not necessarily represent the views of the company or contributors.
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