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Minimalim Art探索极简主义艺术

John Morgan

约翰 · 摩根

March 21st, 2019, Beijing

Have you ever seen paintings with simple precise lines of solid color or repeating geometric shapes? You may have been looking at Minimalist Art. In this lesson, you'll explore the characteristics of Minimalist Art and the movement's famous painters.


Minimalism was an art movement that developed in the United States in the late 1950s and that reached its peak in the mid to late 1960s. It's also called Minimalist Art or ABC Art because it focuses on basic elements. It grew out of the ideas expressed in the early 20th century by people like the Russian artist Kazimir Malevich, who pioneered Abstract Art by painting nonrepresentational pictures without a reference to the landscapes, people, and still-life scenes found in the real world. 

Minimalism was also a reaction to the most prominent style of art pursued in the 1950s, Abstract Expressionism, in which the art conveyed multiple meanings of intense emotions and ideas, sometimes created in spontaneous or unplanned ways. Abstract Expressionists often used thick brushstrokes that were clearly done by hand. An example of Abstract Expressionism is Willem de Kooning's work Woman V, done in the early 1950s. It's aggressive, emotional, and almost violent in its brushstrokes and lines. 


Willem de Kooning, Woman V, 1952-1953


By the late 1950s, some artists began rebelling against what they considered Abstract Expressionism's excesses. They headed in a completely opposite direction toward Minimalist Art. 


Several important characteristics identify Minimalist Art. One of the most common is repetition, or creating multiple images of the same shape, especially simple geometric forms like lines and squares. Artists repeat shapes and produce paintings composed of vertical color blocks. Many works are extremely simple, pared down to the fewest possible lines or forms needed to paint the image. Areas are smooth and finished, devoid of obvious brushstrokes or hint of the artist's hand. Minimalist art focuses on things like geometry, line, and color. Early works tended to be monochromatic, limited to one color and related hues (like black, grey, and white). Another way to identify a Minimalist painting is by looking for hard-edged, precise borders between areas of color. There's no shading or subtle transition. 

Several important characteristics also identify what we won't find in Minimalism. For example, it is not expressive. Instead, the artist removes all elements of biography or emotion. When you stand in front of a Minimalist painting, you won't see big ideas, complex subjects, or social agendas. The paintings are about geometry and color. Minimalist art is art for art's sake minus the emotion. 

Minimalist Painters

Some of the most prominent Minimalist artists were sculptors, people like Sol LeWitt and Donald Judd. The latter began his art career as a painter and art critic in the 1940s. His work is important because it helped to define minimalism, especially his essay ''Specific Objects'', which advocated for art made from everyday materials. Judd eventually transitioned into woodcuts and then focused the rest of his career on sculpture. 

Among prominent Minimalist painters, one of the earliest was Ellsworth Kelly (1923 - 2015), whose works featured hard-edged precise borders between blocks of color. First active in the mid-1950s, he predates the clear establishment of Minimalism, but in paintings like Red Yellow Blue White and Black from 1953, he clearly displays the characteristics later 

A Reductive Abstract Art

Although many works of art can be described as “minimal,” the name Minimalism refers specifically to a kind of reductive abstract art that emerged during the early 1960s.  At the time, some critics preferred names like “ABC,” “Boring,” or “Literal” Art, and even “No-Art Nihilism,” which they believed best summed up the literal presentation and lack of expressive content characterizing this new aesthetic.  While scholars have recently argued for a broader definition of Minimalism that would include artists in number of disciplines, the term remains closely linked to sculpture of the period.

Donald Judd’s Untitled(1969) is characteristic in its use of spare geometric forms, repeated to create a unified whole that calls attention to its physical size in relationship to the viewer.  Like most Minimalists, Judd used industrial materials and processes to manufacture his work, but his preference for color and shiny surfaces distinguished him among the artists who pioneered the style.

Lack of Apparent Meaning

What most people find disturbing about Minimalism is its lack of any apparent meaning.  Like Pop Art, which emerged simultaneously, Minimalism presented ordinary subject matter in a literal way that lacked expressive features or metaphorical content; likewise, the use of commercial processes smacked of mass production and seemed to reject traditional expectations of skill and originality in art.  In these ways, both movements were, in part, a response to the dominance of Abstract Expressionism, which had held that painting conveys profound subjective meaning.  However, whereas Pop artists depicted recognizable images from kitsch sources, the Minimalists exhibited their plywood boxes, florescent lights and concrete blocks directly on gallery floors, which seemed even more difficult to distinguish as “Art.”  (One well-known story tells of an art dealer, who visited Carl Andre’s studio during the winter and unknowingly burned a sculpture for firewood while the artist was away.)  Moreover, when asked to explain his black-striped paintings of 1959, Frank Stella responded, “What you see is what you see.”  Stella’s comment implied that, not only was there no meaning, but that none was necessary to demonstrate the object’s artistic value.


Given these facts, it may seem odd to learn that hundreds of essays and books have been written about Minimalism, many by the artists themselves.  It is significant that, although Minimalist art shares similar features, the artists associated with the movement developed their aesthetic ideas from variety of philosophical and artistic influences.  Through their writings, Minimalist artists put forth distinctive positions about the work they produced.  In addition to his role as a sculptor, Judd was a prominent art critic, and his reviews provide eloquent explanations of his intent—shared by Stella and Dan Flavin—to eliminate the illusionism and “subjective” decision-making of traditional painting.  Robert Morris, whose sculpture was influenced by avant-garde dance and performance, published a series of texts, arguing for sculpture to be understood in physical and psychological terms; and, Sol LeWitt introduced the term Conceptual Art to explain the use of seriality and systemic structure in his cubic grid-like forms.


In this way, the artists, along with critics and art historians over the past 50 years, have developed a critical discourse that surrounds the art objects, but which is essential to understanding Minimalism itself.  Likewise, such artists as Richard Serra, Bernd and Hilla Becher, Maya Lin and Rachel Whiteread, who use Minimalist practice of the early 1960s as a point of departure for their own creative exploration, continue to contribute to the movement’s legacy and our understanding of its significance today.

Essay by Virgina Spivey


Minimalism (1960s Onwards)

Definition and Meaning
Emerging in a coherent form in New York, during the 1960s, Minimal art, popularly known as Minimalism - but also sometimes referred to as ABC art, Cool art, Literalist art, Object art, and Primary Structure art - was a major movement of postmodernist art, specifically a style of abstract painting or sculpture characterized by extreme simplicity of form: in effect a type of visual art reduced to the essentials of geometric abstraction. Widely exhibited in the best galleries of contemporary art in America, it became an important style in New York and was marketed by several dealers including Leo Castelli. The term minimalism is usually applied to works by postmodernist artists such as Carl Andre (b.1935), Dan Flavin (1933-1996), Donald Judd (1928-1994), Ellsworth Kelly (b.1923), Sol LeWitt (b.1928), Robert Morris (b.1931), Kenneth Noland (b.1924), Richard Serra (b.1939), Tony Smith (1912-80), and Anne Truitt (b.1933); and to paintings by Robert Mangold (b.1937), Brice Marden (b.1938), Agnes Martin (b.1912), and Robert Ryman(b.1930), among others. Very often an austere, cerebral type of art, Minimalism is sometimes associated with Conceptualism - via the avant-garde composer John Cage (1912-92) - and occasionally with Land art.

Origins and History

Minimalism derives from the minimal geometric forms of the Suprematist painter Kasimir Malevich (1878-1935), exemplified in works like Black Circle (1913, State Russian Museum, St Petersburg), and the "ready-mades" of Marcel Duchamp (1887-1968). Later pioneers included the Bauhaus/ Black Mountain College teacher Josef Albers (1888-1976), noted for his Homage to the Square series, and Ad Reinhardt (1913-67) who finally gravitated to all-black paintings in the late 1950s. As it was, the emergence of Minimalism was as much a reaction against the emotionalism of Abstract Expressionism as a culmination of a particular aesthetic. One of the first abstract painters to be specifically linked with Minimalism was the Abstract Expressionist Frank Stella(b.1936), whose black "pin-stripe" paintings made a huge impact at the 1959 art show ("16 Americans") staged by Dorothy Miller at the Museum of Modern Art in New York. Stella's minimalist works (hard-edge painting) - following in the footsteps of earlier works by Kenneth Noland, Robert Motherwell, Ralph Humphrey, and Robert Ryman - were in sharp contrast to the emotional, energy-filled paintings by Abstract Expressionists Willem de Kooning (1904-97) or Franz Kline (1910-62). Another influence on the development of minimalist painting was Ed Ruscha (b.1937). (See also: Post-Painterly Abstraction.)

Minimalism in Painting & Sculpture - Characteristics

Minimalist paintings and sculptures are generally composed of precise, hard-edged, geometric forms, with rigid planes of colour pigment - typically utilizing cool hues or maybe just one colour. They tend to consist of non-hierarchical, geometrically regular compositions, often arranged in a grid format and made from industrial materials. Whatever the precise details, the idea of this kind of non-objective art is to purge the work of any external references or gestures, such as the emotionalism of Abstract Expressionism. According to Robert Morris, one of the most influential theorists of Minimalism, in his seminal series of essays "Notes on Sculpture 1-3" (Artforum in 1966), the minimalist painter or sculptor is chiefly interested how the spectator perceives the relationship between the different parts of the work and of the parts to the whole thing. The repetition often seen in Minimalist sculpture is designed to highlight the subtle differences in this relationship. An alternative approach was outlined by Donald Judd in his paper "Specific Objects" (Arts Yearbook 8, 1965), who saw minimal art as a means of eliminating inherited artistic values from Europe, thus creating a new type of American art.

The movement was heavily criticised by a number of important art critics and historians. For instance, Michael Fried's critical article "In Art and Objecthood" (Artforum in June 1967), strongly criticised its "theatricality".

For details of the best postmodern exponents of minimalism, please see: Top Contemporary Artists.

Minimalism in Architecture

Influenced by traditional Japanese designs, the Bauhaus art school and De Stijl, Minimalist architecture, exemplified by the signature style of architect Mies van der Rohe, which he describes as "Less is more", refers to building designs that are reduced to the absolute bare minimum of elements. Minimalist architectural design typically uses basic geometric shapes, harmonious colours, natural textures, open-plan spatial arrangements, neat and straight components, clean finishes, flat or nearly flat roofs, large windows and satisfying negative spaces. Noted minimalist designers include American architects like Ludwig Mies van der Rohe (1886-1969), Philip Johnson (1906-2005), Raymond Hood(1881-1934) and Louis Skidmore (1897-1962), to name but a few. For more details, see: American Architecture. In the 1980s, a new generation of Zen Buddhism-influenced Japanese architects appeared, including: Kazuo Shinohara (b.1925), Fumihiko Maki (b.1928), Arata Isozaki (b.1931) and Tadeo Ando (b.1941). Other minimalist architectural designers include: Alberto Campo Baeza, Michael Gabellini, Richard Gluckman, Hugh Newell Jacobsen, Eduardo Souto de Moura, John Pawson, Claudio Silvestrin, Vincent Van Duysen, Alvaro Siza Vieira, and Peter Zumthor. For the effect of minimalism on supertall buildings, the dominant form of urban art in America, see: Skyscraper Architecture (1850-present).


Collections of Minimal Art

Key collections of this kind of concrete art can be found at the following places, and in many of the best art museums devoted to late 20th century works.

- Chinati Foundation (Marfa, Texas).
- Modern Art Museum of Fort Worth (Texas).
- Montclair Art Museum (New Jersey)
- Museum of Modern Art (New York)
- Guggenheim Museum (New York)
- Museum Boijimans van Beuningen (Rotterdam, The Netherlands)
- Pinakothek der Moderne (Munich, Germany)
- Guggenheim Bilbao (Spain)
- Tate Modern (London)


Late 20th Century Types of Minimal Art

Just when you thought it was safe, along comes two more buzzwords to do with Minimalism. Are they important? Are they worth studying? You decide. Frankly, I'm all done with minimal art. It all sounds rather interesting but in the flesh it can be a major disappointment. (Mind you, so can Picasso!)



Neo-minimalism is a rather vaguely defined art style/movement of the late 20th, early 21st centuries, in painting, sculpture, architecture, design, and music. It is sometimes referred to as "neo-geo", "Neo-Conceptualism", "Neo-Futurism", "New Abstraction", "Poptometry", "Post-Abstractionism", "Simulationism", and "Smart Art". Contemporary artists who are supposedly associated with the term, include David Burdeny, Catharine Burgess, Marjan Eggermont, Paul Kuhn, Eve Leader, Tanya Rusnak, Laurel Smith, Christopher Willard, and Time Zuck.


Post-Minimalism describes attempts to go beyond the idiom of minimalism,in architecture or the visual arts. In simple terms, 1960s minimalism is a rather intellectual style of art characterized by extreme simplicity of form and a deliberate lack of expressive content. Minimalist artists were only interested in presenting a pure "idea". In Post-Minimalism (1971 onwards), the focus shifts from the purity of the idea, to HOW it is conveyed.

Postminimalism is associated with the following contemporary artists: Tom Friedman, Felix Gonzalez-Torres, Eva Hesse, Matthew Kandegas, Anish Kapoor, Wolfgang Laib, Joseph Nechvatal, Damian Ortega, Martin Puryear, Charles Ray, Joel Shapiro, Keith Sonnier, Cecil Touchon, Richard Tuttle, Richard Wentworth, Rachel Whiteread and Hannah Wilke, among others.

Minimalist Sculpture/极简主义雕塑,作者:胡又笨


while we let artificial intelligence get better at being what it is, we need to get better at being human. 


约翰 · 摩根

Technology replacing human effort is as old as the first stone axe, and so is the disruption it creates.


JOHN MORGAN(约翰 · 摩根)

约翰 · 摩根简历

BIO, JOHN MORGAN (Weihong Yan)

  • 艺术评论人、策展人、美中教育、中国文化海外本土化及高级商业咨询顾问。

  • 现任美国世界中国学研究学会首席执行官;休 • 麦考(银行家,美国银行行长)当代艺术中心国际委员会主席,美国高等教育禅学会会员和北京外国语大学中国文化研究院研究员。

  • 2006~2017年,美国北卡州费佛尔大学文学院教授、中国学研究中心主任、第46所(现112所)孔子学院美方院长。


  • 汉字书法与人工智能以及机器学习。(汉字5000年与人工智能)

  • 汉字艺术与技术素养教育。

  • 中国文化国际传播学、中西美学与跨文化比较研究与推广。

  • 汉字书法文化与美国STEM/STEAM教育研究。(Science科学、Technology技术、Engineering工程、Art艺术和Mathematic数学)

  • 汉字书法文化与脑可塑性研究。


  • 《說文解字》540部首,德文和英文翻譯;

  • 英文翻譯《漢字講述的文明脈絡》2014年中國最美的書。

John Morgan (Weihong Yan),

American curator, author, US-China strategist in education, culture and Business Senior Consultant and strategic specialist and research professor of Chinese studies in Beijing Foreign Studies University, China. He is also the CEO of the World Association Chinese Studies.


1. International relations focus on Chinese studies.

2. Chinese and Western aesthetics and cross-cultural research.

​3. Interdisciplinary studies of Chinese calligraphy and neuroplasticity. 


Contact Info:

Weihong Yan

86-13903511910 (China)

001-980-428-0550 (USA) 

Add: 4736 Hedgemore Dr. Unit P, Charlotte, NC 28209, USA.

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