architecture

A Brief History of Minimalism

Written by Emily Cheetham, Summer 2019 Intern

Imagine you are in New York City during the 1960s. You bike along the newly paved Brooklyn Bridge bike path listening to the Beatles, on your way to catch a show at a gallery. Over the past twenty years, abstract expressionism has become the dominant artistic style. Jackson Pollock, Willem de Kooning, and Mark Rothko are the avant garde and New York has replaced Paris as the capital of the art world. Andy Warhol just unveiled his Marilyn Monroe paintings to the world and designed a Velvet Underground album cover. The 60s art world is all about loud color, splattered paint, and over-the-top imagery.

But across the city, three artists–Donald Judd, Robert Morris, and Sol LeWitt–sit in their studios developing a new artistic movement that would go on to influence everything from architecture and design to fashion and music: minimalism. “Minimalist artists rejected the notion of the artwork as a unique creation reflecting the personal expression of a gifted individual,” writes the Tate Museum in London, “seeing this as a distraction from the art object itself. Instead they created objects that were as impersonal and neutral as possible.”

What was so different and new about minimalism? A look at three famous minimalist artworks can explain. 

Robert Morris, Untitled (Mirrored Cubes)

Robert Morris completed this piece in 1965 to be exhibited at the Green Gallery in New York. Morris eventually destroyed the original piece, believing that the material was not of the highest quality. A new version of the sculpture was placed at the Tate Modern in London beginning in 1971. Four mirrored cubes sit in a symmetrical placement, encouraging the viewer to walk around the piece. As the viewer looks at the art, however, they are forced to reflect on themselves rather than just reflecting on the art. The viewer battles the beauty of art with the imperfection of reality. Minimalism is often overlaps with conceptualism, or art that draws its meaning from thought-provoking concepts.

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Donald Judd, UNTITLED (1969)

An apostle of minimalism, Donald Judd, once said, “actual space is intrinsically more powerful and specific than paint on a flat surface.” Minimalist pieces often take up literal space, rather than depicting something through painting. Donald Judd’s desire to exhibit art in an unconventional way is evident with this piece. Judd sought to revive the gallery space, to make art that reacts to the space it is in.

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Sol LeWitt, White Cubes

Sol LeWitt was mesmerized by the shape of a cube. He once called the cube "relatively uninteresting,” and used the shape in his art because the cube “lacked the expressive force of more interesting forms and shapes." To LeWitt, the cube was the ultimate “meaningless” shape. He wanted to make art objects that had no deeper or symbolic meaning—a cube is simply a geometric figure. These white cubes fall perfectly into the minimalist ideology: they are geometric, colorless and interchangeable.

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Minimalism Today

Minimalism continues to impact contemporary artists today. Chicago artists like Theaster Gates and John Pittman—tackle aesthetic issues through form and shape. As corporate art consultants, we have built a local and international network of artists working in a range of styles, including contemporary minimalism. Because a simple, impactful geometric artwork often pairs well with modern office furnishings, minimalism can be an excellent addition to the aesthetic of a corporate space.

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Intern Introductions: Emily Cheetham

This summer, the DeGroot team includes a new intern, Emily Cheetham. Joining us all the way from Texas ahead of her senior year of college, Emily brings a variety of previous internship experiences in the art world–from Dallas to Rome. We are thrilled to introduce her to art consulting and the Chicago art world.

Written by Emily Cheetham, Summer 2019 Intern

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My father is an architect. Growing up, I spent my summers at his firm’s office in San Francisco. When I wasn’t hiding under his coworkers’ desks, I played architect. A day in the life of my architecture business involved creating new sketches for my building that would leave a footprint on the Manhattan skyline. I rattled on about bathroom tiles to fit the pattern of blues in my new apartment complex and began designing the infinity pool that would soon fill the backyard of my dream house. As I got older, however, I became less interested in designing buildings–and more interested in the fine art that fills those walls.

In high school, I interned at the Nasher Sculpture Center in Dallas, Texas. This museum houses modern and contemporary sculpture. I served as the social media and event planning coordinator. One of my major projects involved developing an interactive feature for museum visitors to use with the photo-sharing app Snapchat. The project helped boost audience engagement with the museum, allowing young people to relate and respond to the physical artwork at the museum they may otherwise have only seen in textbooks. Because I was a young teenager who loved Snapchat, this was a great introduction to working in the art world.

I began my undergraduate career at the University of Georgia as an art history major. UGA offers many courses in this field, ranging from ancient to modern. While dabbling in every area, I have a passion for American and European modern and contemporary art. Mark Rothko, Roy Lichtenstein, Andy Warhol, and Pablo Picasso–to name a few–are artists that captivate me. I am interested in the sensory experience of viewing abstract pieces. For instance, the powerful blocks of color on a Rothko canvas completely engulf the viewer, heightening the senses.

Recently, I studied abroad in Rome. I was implausibly excited to leave my friends and family and venture out into a world I was unaccustomed to. There are very few cities with as much connection to European art history as Rome. Viewing the Sistine Chapel ceiling was a truly eye-opening experience. As cliché as it may sound, chills ran up and down my spine as I observed Michelangelo’s mastery.

While in Rome, I interned with a gallery based in the city. Run by Virginio Ferrari and his family members, Ferrari Studios is a collaborative gallery and shared studio space. Working with Italian artists and learning about different work culture was very interesting. I discovered that different countries and cultures have varied ways of working–even in the art world.

Now that I am back in the States, I am thrilled to be interning at DeGroot Fine Art for a summer. Art consulting is something I’ve always been attracted to and wanted to learn more about. I am interested in the business and project management aspects of art consultancy and I am enthusiastic to learn more. And, as I have many architectural building plans in my past, I am looking forward to seeing how architectural and interior design relate to art consulting. I’m sure my father would love for me to follow in his footsteps as an architect–but I think he’ll be just as happy for me to help adorn the walls that architects build.

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