In the seminal 1967 essay “Art and Objecthood,” critic Michael Fried argued that good art itself was at odds with much of this new Minimalist work. Its creators, he believed, were simply making objects that established a sense of theater as viewers were forced to engage with them over time. Fried explicitly outlined “the need to defeat theatre,” calling for an end to Judd-esque approaches (in “Primary Structures,” the artist had shown two works, both a series of connected metallic boxes).
The advocates of the nascent movement would argue that Minimalist sculpture is valuable for just that reason: The “best” of this work asks viewers to reconsider the environments they encounter everyday. For example, some of Andre’s sculptures lie on the floor, inviting their audience to tread on the art. The works blur the boundary between art and architecture, what’s revered or neglected in our surrounding spaces. Same goes for Judd’s shelf-like boxes that ask, in part, where furniture ends and fine art begins. Many of the Minimalist sculptors integrated ordinary materials more associated with construction than fine art into forms that evoked less hallowed professions than the quintessential, marble-carving “sculptor.” They innovated by challenging preconceived notions of how to experience space, materials, institutional settings, and the structures with which we interact on a daily basis.
The era’s most famous critic, Clement Greenberg, didn’t much care for Judd nor for Minimalism, and Judd, predictably, retaliated: “Clement Greenberg’s dogmatism finally discredited serious art criticism,” he wrote in 1984 essay entitled “A Long Discussion Not about Master-Pieces But Why There Are So Few of Them: Part II.”