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Introduction to the History of Minimalism
By ArtHistory.net



Purity in art can be achieved through simplicity and unity. Minimalism is a primarily American art movement often characterized as a reaction to the Second World War. This style surfaced in early works like Kasimir Malevitch’s Black Cross (1915), but especially in American art works in the 1950s and 1960s. These simple works used minimal techniques to communicate more what the artist felt in response to the war or another issue than it reflected the artist’s technical capabilities.

The Minimalist work’s absence of pizzazz in technique allows the viewer to become immediately part of the canvas. The art composition is simplified by reducing the number of colors, lines, values, textures, and shapes so that the observer can readily identify the central concept or message. The experience of wondering what the painting means is absent. The works of the American artist, Frank Stella, provide a great example of Minimalism.

In 1936, the printmaker and painter Frank Stella was born in Malden, Massachusetts. He obtained a bachelor’s degree in history from Princeton University. In the college years, he had the opportunity to visit NYC art galleries and react to the colorful and magnificent works of Abstract Expressionist artists like Jackson Pollock. Stella responded with creative, almost commercial, works in 1959-1960 that minimized forms to basic elements.

The Museum of Modern Art houses Stella’s The Marriage of Reason and Squalor, II (1959). The viewer sees in Marriage one of the many examples of Black Paintings that Stella created around this time. Stella used black enamel (reflecting his choice as a commercial paint) and a housepainter’s brush. Heavy black stripes alternate with white pinstripes (blank canvas) in a uniform pattern that starkly contrasts with the vivid splashes of paint used by the Abstract Expressionists. In Six Mile Bottom (1960) in the Tate Collection, the viewer observes a grey, geometric composition using metallic paint that radiates outward from a small, black rectangle in the center. Stella noted in 1964, “All I want anyone to get out of my paintings and all I ever get out of them is the fact that you can see the whole idea without any confusion.”

Some Minimalist works were not as heavy on geometry as Stella’s early works. Even his works bordered on three-dimensional because his painting surfaces were stretched in a thick manner. The Minimalist tradition would continue for the rest of the twentieth century and expand into sculpture and architecture.



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