Political Minimalism


A nonstandard term, contemporary political Minimalism describes contemporary artistic practices that use forms of Minimalist art to critically deal with cultural or political subjects. Such approaches are noteworthy because Minimalist artists of the 1960s expressly avoided identifiable political content. Exhibitions such as Klaus Biesenbach’s 2009 Political/Minimal at Berlin’s Kunstwerke have highlighted the explicit political engagement of the work of Felix Gonzalez-Torres, Monica Bonvicini, and Alfredo Jaar, among others. Other examples include Glenn Ligon, whose Minimalist monochrome paintings include provocative text about race and identity, and Ai Weiwei, whose Tofu (2012), a white porcelain block, recalls Sol LeWitt’s white cubes while drawing attention to the Chinese government’s lack of accountability in urban development (in China, the phrase “tofu-dreg project” refers to shoddy construction). Recent scholarship on Minimalism, however, has argued for its embeddedness in the politics of its day: the use of industrial materials, such as steel and Plexiglas, spoke to American military-industrial prowess, while repeated modular elements conjured a consumer society of replication. Such insights trouble the concept of “pure form” that has long been associated with the movement, creating a fruitful legacy for contemporary artists working in this vein.

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