Survival of the Minimalist

Aliya Bhatia
Oct 16, 2014 4:07PM

“We must supply our own light” Stanley Kubrick ever so effortlessly said, leaving us to fend for ourselves. A compelling statement for soon-to-be or recent graduates like us, the next generation of art enthusiasts who seek to carve our own niche in the industry, Survival of the Minimalist explores the competitive and innovative techniques in the post-modern realm used by artists to propel them forward in the industry, and simultaneously re-define art in its entirety.

In the midst of an experimental period, artists including an exceptionally fearless Robert Rauschenberg sought to leave his mark by removing one. Specifically Willem de Kooning's mark, Rauschenberg questioned the art object in its entirety by erasing de Kooning’s work leaving a nearly bare canvass to be displayed and positioning himself as the new master by literally replacing the work of his predecessors with his own.

Deemed as a subversive appropriation of another artists’ work, Rauschenberg paved the way for Bruce Nauman. Liaising with artists like Rauschenberg, Nauman’s Wax Impressions of the Knees of Five Famous Artists highlights the close community of artists and leverages the ‘famous’ artists’ presence for his own installation. Additionally Yoko Ono’s Grapefruit goes one step further by using her object to replace herself. In this case a book she has written, considered an early conceptual art work, allows viewers to act out a few performative tropes or become their own art creator, and leaves her redundant. Interestingly, while Ono’s conceptual work predates her contemporaries, a lot of her work was only accepted when her male and Caucasian colleagues used similar concepts.

Acceptance and a spatial aspect has also been examined when pairing Rauschenberg’s Sant’Agnese (Venetian) with David Hammons’ The Door (Admissions Office) and James Turrell’s Ronin. These works engage a space by declaring the artists presence and authority. Rauschenberg’s enviably comfortable yet simple and quotidian chair fort appropriates the name of a landmark Romanesque church in Venice propelling the work to new conceptual heights.

Hammons’ work on the other hand uses familiar and accessible imagery to ponder and convey issues of racialized people. By exhibiting a door to an admissions office Hammons points to the vast collection of minorities who struggle to get their foot, or here themselves, in the door of an institution, speaking volumes about the rigidity and often discriminatory nature of institutions. Turrell’s work too questions the difficulty of exhibiting in an institution by representing himself or his work as a narrow beam of light entering forcefully into an enclosed room.

I conclude with Christopher Wool’s (Untitled)You Make Me to point to a more recent example from 1997 of an artist’s use of non-art materials – enamel paint on aluminum – and to highlight the shift in responsibility that Wool points to. Using a sentence that simultaneously addresses a dichotomous relationship between coercion and completeness, the work shifts the responsibility of ‘creation’ to the viewer, acknowledging perhaps the superior role of the audience in the valuation of art, and again leaving artists helpless and to fend for themselves. 


Aliya Bhatia