When Does Minimalism Become Too Minimal?

8 Oct

It was recently pointed out to me that there has been a lot of minimal art produced recently, and the exhibitions this article discusses feature minimal and monochromatic works, but can minimalism go too far?

Florian Pumhösl’s part of the current exhibition at Raven Row consists of two floors filled with a series of minimal works on glass.  This choice of unframed medium seems to reflect upon Joseph Kosuth‘s works including Clear Square Glass Leaning (1965) and No Number #1 (+216, After Augustine’s Confessions) (1989), and to the latter of these there also seems to be a link in David Batchelor‘s Shelf-like No. 5 (Green) (1999), currently on display at the Whitechapel Gallery in their latest exhibition of the Government Art Collection.  However, where Kosuth applied text to the medium using Letraset and later silkscreen, Pumhösl has composed and painted a series of abstract black lines, numbering between two and six on each piece.  These lines might describe journeys, lines of communication, horizons, or statistical graphs, but there is no information within the work for viewers to read the artist’s intention or act.  To the viewer these are simply random lines, some arranged so they create intersections and others vaguely parallel, floating in the liquid plane of the glass, sometimes alike part of paintings by Wassily Kandinsky.

Whilst Pumhösl’s work fits within the broad nature of minimalism and perhaps Abstract Expressionism, The Mews Project Space is hosting an exhibition of monochromatic works, which critically address minimalism and its practices from within.  In the first room of Dark Matter Jonathan Lewis has set out to recreate the installation conditions of Kasimir Malevich‘s seminal Suprematist exhibition, The Last Futurist Exhibition (1915), but Lewis uses only a series of prints of Black Square on White in different size and style frames and digital printing means and materials.  However the focus of The End (2011) is on the pixelation of the image, which unlike Lewis’s previous work is due to the prints being taken from a very low-resolution image found online.  This includes a rather bizarre square of different shade off-white pixels in each corner like an unreadable QR code or the tags within a graphic design software package for manipulating the dimensions of a selected image.  Then a greyish line of pixels forms a border between the two areas, as though the image could be of a black surface over layered with a white mount board casting a slight shadow.  Such is the case that online information, particularly that resourced from search engines that pick up any text on a page, can be confused between original pieces and things inspired by a master, hence it is possible that this may not be an image of the original.  Consequently the work questions the capability of communication of knowledge and ideas through the internet and the actual minimalism of artworks including Malevich’s.  Do they conform to machine-accurate straight lines or is the presence of human nature visible in brushstrokes and minor imperfections?

The End (2011) by Jonathan Lewis at The Mews Project Space

Opposite, Andreas Schmidt’s Free Porn critiques censorship on Google Images suggesting that there is either too much censorship or that the pornographic images obscured in this work are too easily accessible and without payment to the models and photographer.  Furthermore Schmidt may be critiquing several layers of censorship; that of the images, the power of Google and other search providers to control what you can find on the internet, and also that within the art world.

Free Porn by Andreas Schmidt

Lewis’s work also raises issues of artistic authorship and copyright at a time when artists are gaining new legal rights to proceeds from profitable resales.  Similarly Schmidt addresses copyright infringement in the digital age with Google et al syndicating any images they come across.

In the second room at The Mews the works presented are even more minimal and hence seem to be about the capability of printing processes to transform white paper to black.  Jean Keller’s The Black Print is fairly successful with a thick layer of inkjet ink but does not cover the full surface, leaving a white margin around the paper like a rectangular version of Malevich’s work.  It also bares witness to a couple of tiny marks, drips perhaps, as the ink itself is applied in a spattering of microscopic droplets.

With this we are presented a set of books by Mishka Henner entitled Astronomical.  Throughout the series is a set of tiny photographs of the planets of our solar system strategically placed so the number of pages between them accurately represents the distance between the planets and hence this work is more of a scientific illustration than an artwork.  However there are consequently thousands of blank pages depicting bare space, a void, printed fully in black but with a lower resolution of print quality than Keller’s leaving a spattering of white visible like particles of dusts waiting to form new bodies in space.  Hence this work seems to question what is beyond and how we came to exist, whilst it may also address issues of boredom and lack of inspiration.

Meanwhile, Junya Ishigami’s work Architecture as Air in the Barbican Curve takes minimalism to a fine line.  Using materials of a maximum diameter of 1mm thick he has created a basic freestanding structure that fills the entire space yet is virtually impossible to see.  Made of a series of columns akin to classical buildings such as the Colosseum.  These columns are supported by a series of beams at increasing angles and the work seems to form a bridge to enable microscopic organisms to safely cross the gallery.  Whether it would be strong enough to cope with collecting a tiny amount of dust, which may make it more visible, and whether insects could cross, it remains unclear.

What seems most artistic about Ishigami’s exhibition, however, is the audience experience whereby only six viewers are allowed into the large space at a time and are taken on a guided tour to see what at first cannot be seen, so as to make sure no one touches the fragile and barely visible work.  This is sheer drama, and that it seems, is what the moment of minimalism was all about; the spectacle of unveiling very little with straight lines and clean edges, just as Malevich in the titling of his exhibition may have sought to draw an end to Futurist and Modern art by attempting to shock the art world through reducing the content of his work to an absolute minimum, yet instead he created an aesthetic that remains popular today.

Mathias Poledna / Florian Pumhösl is at Raven Row, 56 Artillery Lane, London E1 7LS until 20th November 2011.
Richard Of York Gave Battle In Vein (a selection from the Government Art Collection made by Cornelia Parker and arranged by colour) is at the Whitechapel Gallery, 77-82 Whitechapel High Street, London E1 7QX until 4th December.
Dark Matter is at The Mews Project Space, 15 Osborne Street, London E1.
Junya Ishigami: Architecture as Air is at the Barbican Centre Curve Gallery, Silk Street, London EC2Y 8DS until 16th October.


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