Singular Forms (Sometimes Repeated)
Singular Forms (Sometimes Repeated)
NEW YORK, N.Y.—February 2004—From March 5 through May 19, 2004, the Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum presents Singular Forms (Sometimes Repeated): Art from 1951 to the Present. Drawn primarily from the Guggenheim’s exceptional holdings of Minimalist painting and sculpture, Singular Forms examines the impulse toward reduction, restraint, and lucidity in postwar art. The exhibition is the third in a series of exhibitions highlighting the museum’s world-renowned collection, following From Picasso to Pollock: Classics of Modern Art, which celebrated the history of the avant-garde from early Modernism through Abstract Expressionism; and Moving Pictures, which showcased the Guggenheim’s important concentration of contemporary photography and video. The exhibition fills the museum’s entire rotunda and adjacent annex galleries.
During the 1960s and 1970s, in the spirit of broader countercultural movements, artists shunned the traditional categories of painting and sculpture, as well as the overtly expressive content of much aesthetic representation to explore new modes of art making. This resulted in a plethora of unprecedented aesthetic and critical practices, ranging from industrially produced geometric abstractions that negated the hand of the artist to text-based investigations into the meaning of art itself. Though disparate in intent and formal resolution, the works that fall under the art-historical rubrics of Minimalism, Post-Minimalism, and Conceptual art share an abiding impulse to pare a work of art down to its elemental core—be it a perfect cube, a basic, repetitive gesture, or a simple, declarative phrase.
Singular Forms focuses on how this reductive sensibility has suffused much of the most significant artistic practices during the past four decades. To this end, the crux of the exhibition comprises key selections from the museum’s holdings of classic Minimalist painting and sculpture, with particular emphasis on its renowned Panza Collection. But this constitutes only the nucleus of a more extensive investigation that analyzes Minimalism as part of a historical continuum. The presentation posits Minimal art as an aesthetic phenomenon that radiates both backward and forward in time, informing, retrospectively, the work of “precursors” who explored the potential of radical reduction and, later, the work of “successors” who appropriated the vocabulary for different theoretical, critical, or poetic ends.
Singular Forms begins with Robert Rauschenberg’s historic White Painting (1951), a stark, monochrome canvas that invites the viewer’s participation by reflecting the shadows he or she casts in a room. This seminal work establishes twin trajectories in the development of contemporary art—the elimination of all extraneous details to achieve an art of pure, essential form and the attention to issues of perception, viewing context, and bodily engagement. After a prologue including other examples of radical, monochrome paintings by Ellsworth Kelly, Piero Manzoni, Ad Reinhardt, and Frank Stella and sculptures by Kelly and Tony Smith, the exhibition explores how these parallel artistic strategies were manifest in Minimalist, Post-Minimalist, and Conceptual art of the 1960s and 1970s.
During the 1960s a number of American artists—namely Carl Andre, Dan Flavin, Donald Judd, Sol LeWitt, John McCracken, and Robert Morris—independently endeavored to create an art that excludes all compositional complexity (including figure/ground relationships), all surface incident, and all referentiality. Primarily sculptural, Minimal art is premised on the elementalism of geometric forms. It eschews the handmade in favor of anonymous, industrial production, and it foregrounds its own, essential objecthood rather than any symbolic valence. Minimalist painting similarly distilled the medium to its essential components, as artists such as Jo Baer, Robert Mangold, Brice Marden, Agnes Martin, and Robert Ryman each developed a unique economy of formal means to explore the aesthetic potential of pure shape, structure, and surface. To annul all sense of illusion, artists associated with Minimalism often relied on mathematical systems—as manifest in serial repetition or the use of a grid—as a guiding compositional principle.
Minimalism’s impact on subsequent generations of contemporary artists is a major component of Singular Forms. Its immediate successor, Post-Minimalism—a loosely defined aesthetic category—explored a range of concerns including process, the dematerialization of the object, the performative nature of art, and the structural properties of light. Artists such as Jene Highstein, Robert Irwin, Richard Long, Bruce Nauman, Richard Serra, James Turrell, and Douglas Wheeler are among its diverse, international practitioners. While the inherent qualities of a chosen medium—be it the weight of Serra’s lead sheets, the atmospheric effects of Turrell’s projected light, or the duration of Long’s physical journeys through uninhabited terrain—dictated the final structure of an artwork, the overall sensibility is one of extreme formal economy. With Post-Minimalism, the implicit phenomenological aspects of Minimalist sculpture—which necessitates the presence of a viewing subject to complete the work—become explicit. The perceiving body became an integral component of Post-Minimalist art, which incorporated temporality and ephemerality into its vocabulary as a way to foreground the experiential nature of the aesthetic experience. With this as its focal point, the art object itself receded from its traditional, primary position, in some cases disappearing altogether.
Conceptualism, a concurrent artistic strategy, owes much of its self-reflexivity to Minimalism, in some cases due to a misreading of the movement as purely ideational. While Minimalist sculpture and painting questioned the conventional parameters of art, it did not, like Conceptualism, interrogate the ontological category of art itself. Nevertheless, key practitioners of Conceptual art, including Joseph Kosuth and Lawrence Weiner, shared in Minimalism’s extreme reductionism. Eschewing the actual construction of objects in favor of written description, inquiry, and analysis, these artists extrapolated from the critical dimensions of Minimalism to create an essentially non-visual art form.
During the last two decades, many artists schooled in the deconstructivist tendencies of Postmodernism resuscitated Minimalism as a style, infusing its unitary, nonreferential forms with content to bring to the fore trenchant cultural issues. The exhibition concludes with recent work that shares much of the look of classic Minimalist art, but uses it to communicate deeply personal, political, or poetic messages. During the 1980s, Peter Halley, Sherrie Levine, and Allan McCollum appropriated the reductive form of Minimalist painting to critique how systems of power, consumption, and desire are embedded in and perpetrated by representational codes. For Felix Gonzalez-Torres, the art of the 1960s had already entered the art-historical canon and constituted new, classical forms of beauty. By imbuing these forms with potentially incendiary subject matter dealing with a range of issues from AIDS and social reform to political satire, he deliberately used this beauty as a form of contestation. For many other artists active today the reductive vocabulary codified during the 1960s provides a departure point for their work, which can be viewed in some sense as individual homages to the radicalism of the original gesture: Charles Ray explores the structural formulae of Minimalist sculpture with subtle irony. Robert Gober utilizes formal simplification to deeply poetic ends in his handcrafted versions of industrial objects. Roni Horn’s “pair objects” activate memory and perception while invoking ideas about identity and difference. James Lee Byars and Ettore Spalletti invoke the transcendent through their use of elemental forms and, in the latter’s case, pure pigments. Meg Webster renders simple geometries out of organic materials to comment on the fragility of the world’s ecosystem. Wolfgang Laib works with the most fundamental of mediums—milk, marble, pollen, and beeswax—to craft sculptures that bespeak rituals of growth and renewal. Karin Sander produces nearly invisible interventions into the gallery environment by burnishing portions of its wall space to create monochromatic planes that demand keen perceptual awareness to be witnessed. Glenn Ligon creates layered, monochrome canvases out of black paint and coal dust that partially veil texts dealing with the African-American experience. And Liam Gillick investigates the intersection of Modernist design and Minimalism with his space dividers and cubic forms.
The exhibition is organized by Lisa Dennison, Deputy Director and Chief Curator, and Nancy Spector, Curator of Contemporary Art. The installation is designed by Michael Gabellini of Gabellini Associates. The exhibition catalogue examines how the deployment of elemental forms has extended well beyond the visual arts. Filmmakers, choreographers, musicians, designers, and architects (often in tandem or in collaboration with artists) have sought ways to redefine their mediums through the intensive reduction of their formal means. Essays devoted to each of these disciplines demonstrate how minimalist tendencies pervade popular culture today. Authors include Andrea Codrington, Drew Daniel, Bruce Jenkins, Gia Kourlas, Nancy Spector, Deyan Sudjic, and Mark C. Taylor. The catalogue is designed by Alix Lin and Susan Sellers of 2x4, Inc. The catalogue is available in a hardcover version only for $45. It is distributed to the trade through D.A.P. in North America, and Thames & Hudson internationally.
The following programs are offered in conjunction with the exhibition Singular Forms (Sometimes Repeated): Art from 1951 to the Present.
Lectures and Panels
Constructing The Moving Image (An Archeology): 1965–75, Wednesdays at 6:30 PM
This series presents films and videos that challenged the narrative conventions and codes of filmmaking and addressed the primary elements that construct the moving image. Presented by John G. Hanhardt, Senior Curator of Film and Media Arts, with special guest artists. $10 ($7 for members, seniors, and students).
Re:Moving the Image, Guest artist Tony Conrad, March 10
Representing Place and Form, Guest artist Barry Gerson, March 17
Meta-Cinematic Strategies, Guest artist Morgan Fisher, March 24
Reassessing Minimalism, Tuesdays at 6:30 PM
The word “minimalism” emerged in the mid-1960s as critics sought to describe a reductive tendency of geometric abstraction in the works of various artists. This series asks distinguished writers, critics, and art historians to shed new light on the various meanings of this art-historical term and its relationship to the artists whose works were once defined by it.
Alexander Alberro, March 23
Anne Wagner, April 20
James Meyer, May 4
Anna Chave, May 11
Singular Forms Panel Series
These panel discussions explore the reductivist sensibility in contemporary fashion, design, architecture, and film.
A Taste for the Minimal: From Design to Lifestyle, Tuesday, March 30 at 6:30 PM
This panel addresses the penchant for streamlined simplicity in contemporary design, analyzing its sources in International Style Modernism and Minimalism, as well as its socioeconomic implications. Participants: Andrew Bolton, Chee Pearlman, and Mark Wigley
On Simplicity: From Belief to Practice, Tuesday, April 6 at 6:30 PM
This panel explores the philosophy of simplification from different cultural, theological, and philosophical viewpoints, covering a range of topics from Zen Buddhism to the Kindergarten educational system. Participants: Norman Brosterman, Richard Kostelanetz, and France Morin
An Economy of Forms: The Spirit of Reduction in Contemporary Architecture, Tuesday, May 18 at 6:30 PM
This panel discusses the use of simplified forms and spaces in contemporary architecture. Participants: Franco Bertoni, Michael Gabellini, Marianne Stockebrand, and Deyan Sudjic
Conversations With Contemporary Artists
This series features contemporary artists in engaging discussions about their work and current issues in the art world.
Jane and Louise Wilson, Tuesday, March 9 at 6:30 PM
Jane and Louise Wilson are known for their multiscreen, cinema-scale video installations that focus on institutional architecture and the collective phobias such spaces can engender.
Adriana Varejão, Tuesday, March 16 at 6:30 PM
Brazilian painter Adriana Varejão creates works closely connected with the social and political dynamics of cultural expansion, conceiving canvases as fleshy "bodies" comprised of layered images and viscous material.
Free with museum admission. Times are subject to change. For daily schedules, see electronic signboard near the Admissions Desk.
An Educator’s Eye
Singular Forms (Sometimes Repeated): Art from 1951 to the Present
Friday, March 12 at 2 PM: Ryan Hill, Manager, Adult Interpretive Programs
Friday, April 30 at 2 PM: Pablo Helguera, Senior Manager, Education Programs
A Curatorial Eye
Singular Forms (Sometimes Repeated): Art from 1951 to the Present
Friday, March 19 at 2 PM: Joan Young, Assistant Curator
Friday, April 16 at 2 PM: Susan Cross, Associate Curator
Singular Forms at the Guggenheim, Tuesdays, March 2, 9, 23, and 30 and Friday, March 19, 11 AM–1 PM
Explore the exhibition Singular Forms (Sometimes Repeated): Art from 1951 to the Present. Sessions include a trip to Dia:Beacon, a screening of works in film and video led by John G. Hanhardt, and an investigation of the conservation of Minimalist works with Senior Conservator Carol Stringari. To register, call (212) 423-3637. $150.
Instructor: Thyrza Nichols Goodeve. This class is presented in collaboration with 92 Street Y.
Highlights Tours, Saturday, April 3 at 1 and 2 PM
Free family highlights tours of Singular Forms (Sometimes Repeated): Art from 1951 to the Present led by museum educators. Children ages 5–12 and their adult companions are welcome to explore the exhibition and to participate in related activities. Advanced registration required; call (212) 423-3637. Meet at the Information Desk. Free with museum admission.
Shared Spaces, Symphony of Shapes, Saturday, April 3, 1–4 PM
Explore interactive artworks online and create your own digital artworks in Photoshop with new-media artist Cory Arcangel. Open to children ages 7–13 with an adult companion. To register, call (212) 423-3587. $15 for one child, plus one free adult ($10 for members’ children); $10 per additional child or adult.
Computer Collaborations, Saturdays, May 15 and 22, 1–4 PM
Explore Singular Forms and design your own reductivist-inspired storefront village with new-media artist Cory Arcangel. Open to children ages 7–13 with an adult companion. Advanced registration required; call (212) 423-3587. $30 for one child, plus one free adult ($20 for members’ children); $20 per additional child or adult.
Repeated Forms: Making Monoprints, Saturday, April 24, 2–4 PM
Instructor: Joanne Wasti, Studio Art Workshop Educator. Explore themes and ideas in reductivist works followed by a hands-on printmaking experience. Advanced registration required; call (212) 423-3587. –15 for one child, plus one free adult ($10 for members’ children); $10 per additional child or adult.
Exploring Singular Forms, Saturday, March 20, 10 AM–1 PM
Instructor: Regan Kiser, Education Manager, School Programs. Inspired by the museum’s dynamic current exhibition, discuss and develop classroom connections with Minimalist-inspired works. To register, call (212) 423-3637. $20.
Educators’ Viewing of Singular Forms, Wednesday, March 10, 3:30–5:45 PM
Join us for guided tours of this current exhibition of Minimalist and Conceptual artworks. To register, call (212) 423-3637.
Art after School at the Guggenheim, Tuesdays, February 24, March 2, 9, 30, April 20, 27, and May 4, 11 from 3:45–5:45 PM
View the current exhibition and participate in workshops including techniques from collage to digital media. Families are invited to a showcase of students’ work. Open to children ages 8–11. For information or to register, call (212) 423-3637. $275 ($250 for members).
Tour and Workshop Program
Students grades 3–12 tour the museum and then participate in related hands-on projects. Offerings include Architecture as Art, Permanent Collection Highlights, and the current exhibition, Singular Forms (Sometimes Repeated). To register, call (212) 423-3637.
General Information: 212-423-3500
Hours: Saturday–Wednesday 10 AM–5:45 PM; Friday 10 AM–8 PM; closed Thursday
Admission: $15 adults; $10 students/seniors; children under 12 free; members free
February 25, 2004
Guggenheim Public Affairs