some more at Less is More

One of the unexpected pleasures of visiting Less is More: Minimal + Post-Minimal Art in Australia at the Heide Museum of Modern Art was the game of retrospection: what the work meant then, compared with how it looks now. As I remember it Untitled Floor Structure (1969) was meant to be seen ambiguously as both abstract form (rectilinear, coloured, layered, optically active, with a physical presence, and aesthetically engaging) and at the same time looking like a stack of paintings. As if they had been taken off the wall and piled up on the floor, these ‘painting objects’ were seen to be out of place in the habitat of sculpture, that is, the three dimensional space between the walls of the gallery. Occupying also the space of the spectator, who might wonder if they had wandered into a de-installation, such works set out to confuse conventional (orthodox, in some cases) ways of looking.

At the time such category confusion seemed like a pointed way of challenging the predictability of the conventions perpetuated by the Greenberg/Fried formalist dogma – where art was only Art when it knew its proper place – and when it remained within a narrow (and exclusive) essentialist frame of reference. Minimalism and conceptual art opened the door to subversive strategies, when colour and form were shown to be no longer sufficient as the apotheosis of the modern. Breaking with convention, abstract art still seemed to have the potential to be meaningful, or phenomenologically challenging, or conceptually engaging. And so the challenge was to see whether material, colour and form could still be significant – or meaningful – depending on its origins, associations, or presence in the gallery. Art could, it was argued, be propositional: its if, then, and maybe opened the way to forms of aesthetic experience no longer dependent (or so it seemed at the time) on precursors and traditions. For a brief moment abstract the noun was superceded by abstract the verb.

I’d forgotten, for instance, how my Untitled Wall Structure (1970-2012) picked up ambient colour and movement from other art works and from its surroundings – and how the shadows added to its illusionism. The original of this piece was exhibited in a number of different configurations: this third layout mirrors the first, which was destroyed in transit in 1972.

For even more, see the show, and read the excellent historical account of these fleeting moments in Australian art history written by curator Sue Cramer in the extended catalogue essay. And special thanks to Pamela Faye McGrath for these photographs…

PS Robert Nelson reviews here

1 comment so far ↓

#1 vanessa on 08.07.12 at 1:30 pm

looks great congratulations!

Leave a Comment