September 17, 2001
Meyer gets minimal in second book on art genre
The American Heritage Dictionary defines minimalism as use of the
fewest and barest essentials or elements, as in the arts, literature or
design. But James Meyer, assistant professor of art history, has
his own unique views of the sculpture genre, which initially endured negative
perception when first popularized in the United States in the 1960s.
Critics initially felt there wasnt enough art
there, Meyer said of minimalisms uncomplicated, often factory-made
sculptures, which contrasted with more handmade and formally complex works
of preceding decades abstract expressionism. Critics felt
it was too reduced, both in form and facture. Minimal was initially a
term of deprecation in the early 1960s.
It was a way of saying the art was not art enough, Meyer
added. Abstract impressionist art was expressive, and you could
feel the artists subjectivity. You could feel [Jackson] Pollock
expressing his feelings in [abstract expressionist] art. Minimalism is
against thatminimalism is against personal expression. You dont
feel the artist in the work.
To express his perspective on the now widely accepted genre, this summer
Meyer produced his second book, Minimalism: Art and Polemics in the
Sixties, which traces minimalisms genealogy and evolution from
a negative term to a positive one by the end of the decade. The 275-page
book came a year after his more general Minimalism, an assembly
of major essays for which he wrote an 80-page introduction.
Meyers first book became an Amazon.com editors pick among
art books last year. But the second book, which amplifies the substance
of his 1995 Johns Hopkins doctoral dissertation, is considerably more
specific and thoroughly chronicles minimalism from 1959 to 1968. Though
he considers his first book slightly more chic, Meyer said
his second is pitched more to a scholarly audience, designed for scholars
and students of 20th century art.
It seems almost a paradox that minimalism should need such complex
explanation, said Carlos Museum Director Tony Hirschel. This
period has been requiring such a thorough and beautiful explanation like
As its title indicates, Meyers second book is an attempt to specifically
address minimalisms polemics, or the arguments over the movements
veracity, in a decade of heightened intellectual debate in the art world.
Minimalism inspired heated debate, both by the artists and major
critics of the daythe polemics were essential to the invention of
minimalism itself, Meyer said. The 60s was a period
in modern art when debate and criticism around art became essential to
thinking about the art, part of the art. One of the reasons
for so much discussion was the art was so simple that it infuriated viewers.
The artist had to justify what he was doing and explain why this type
of art could be taken seriously.
Theres a certain ethos in the 60s that minimalism exemplifies,
Meyer added of minimalisms environmental, often floor-standing sculpture.
There was an interest in getting rid of the expressive author of
abstract expressionism and simplifying the work.
Having already sold half of its initial run of 4,000 copies since its
release in June, Meyers book is the result of nearly 30 interviews
with artists and critics, including major critics Clement Greenberg and
Michael Fried and minimalist sculptors Donald Judd, Robert Morris, Sol
LeWitt, Carl Andre, Dan Flavin and Anne Truitt. Also included are the
perspectives of art historians Barbara Rose and Rosalind Krauss. Art history
chair Clark Poling admires the totality of Meyers new book and considers
it very unique.
Hes been very enterprising in getting to know artists and their work, as well as criticism of their work, Poling said. Hes very insightful and has a unique perspective on this material. He does a good job of combining scholarship and criticism and brings a breath of perspective to the topic.