Tuesday, June 16, 2009


"Minimalism, on the other hand, I could never understand at all. Why would anyone want to look at less instead of more?" - Peter Saul


Blogger troylloyd said...

Speaking toward the arts, which Saul is talking about -- i kind of agree.

But, at one point Minimalism was truly radical, say the Russian Constructivists & Mondrian; i can even understand the "heroic contemplation" of Ad Reinhardt, Robt. Motherwell & Rothko -- but by the early to mid seventies when Minimalism was the rage in high-art circles it had become merely an empty exercise nearly void of charge, paintings that look perfect behind the teller at the bank & sculpture so ugly and boring people didn't even know it was supposed to be sculpture.

In music, however, it's a different story. i love the maximalist overdose of Angus MacLise, but i also love the humming simple drones of Tony Conrad -- i think minimalism in music is the easiest for people to accept.

Now, minimalism in writing can tend to piss people off, make them laugh, shrug or just altogether dismiss the practice as some kind of shortcoming, looking at the poetry of Robert Lax, i think his writing is quite effective given the constraint & then there's Aram Saroyan and the whole school of "one word poems"...

...just my 2¢

8:05 PM  
Blogger Chris said...

What, really?

To look harder, of course.

8:13 PM  
Blogger Johannes said...

It seems to me to call Russian Constructivism minimalist is to twist time around (a half a century turned backwards). Constructivism is also so incredibly different in its philosophy (though the actual artwork may have influenced 60s-70s minimalism). For one they were working for a revolution.


7:29 AM  
Blogger Johannes said...


I actually think minimalism at its core is not about looking at all.

But your point - do you actually believe that?? - is a kind of puritanical strain of American thought. The moralism of restraint. You can find that in poetry too (New Criticism, "The new thing" etc).

If you look hard enough, you'll be a better person. If you read close enough, you'll be saved from the onslaught of modernity.

Do you really think one looks "harder"? Does one look harder when one looks at a baroque religious painting or a black box? I can't say that any one is "harder" automatically.

Probably the "hardest" I ever looked at any artwork were a series of Jean-Michel Basquiat shows at Tony Schafrazi gallery in Soho back in the mid-90s. Perhaps one of my biggest influences on my own writing, a definite turning point for me (if I may be so bold as to refer to my own artistic development). And the very opposite of minimalism.


8:59 AM  
Blogger Chris said...

Well, yes, though I don't mean it in any moral sense, so you can please stop inserting your presumption into my aesthetic choices.

"Harder", though, could be more specific: I mean that I tend to want to look at an Agnes Martin painting for longer than one by whoever your favorite maximalist painter is, and that I pay more attention to details when there is a limpid superstructure and when there aren't the distractions of something else over there hollering at me.

So yes. I read a seven-word poem and I roll it around my tongue for a few minutes, enjoying its various pleasures; I read a seven-hundred-page poem by racing through it, and a parade of words go by, unnoticed and unconsidered.

And again, this isn't an agenda, it's just what I like; I don't care what you like (though I might care if you insist that there's nothing to like in what I like, or reduce my aesthetics to some black-and-white moralism).

9:12 AM  
Blogger Chris said...

I mean, to simply follow up on that: Minimalism isn't about any one thing and that alone; and my reason wasn't proposed as the reason, but as one, in response to someone who thought there were none.

(And surely "not looking" is better suited to conceptual rather than minimal work?)

9:15 AM  
Blogger troylloyd said...

yes, you're right, that was faulty on my part, but in the context of "looking at something" (outside of historical perspective), a black square by Malevich is essentially the same, content wise, as a Reinhardt black painting.

i should have been more careful in reference to minimalism as a practice as opposed to Minimalism as a movement.

Now, i know it is impossible to divorce historicity from looking at art, or is it? That brings an interesting question to the act of "looking" -- what drives one to research what one sees? & how does research effect overall enjoyment of the seen thing? Say for instance, in looking at the famous Fahlström ESSO/LSD if i had now idea what Esso or LSD was? If i "get the joke", does knowledge of the reference enhance the "enjoyment"?

Can one read To Repel Ghosts without knowing who SAMO © was?

is Basquiat's list of jazz records minimalist?

damn, he had the best fuckin' handwriting, he could work those oilsticks like no other...

10:14 AM  
Blogger Johannes said...


Sorry if I ascribed a moral perspective to you. The reason I did this is largely because I've heard that argument a million times, and thus plugged you into that history: the morality of restraint.

And also because "harder" to me suggest a better, finer kind of looking.

There obviously are different ways of looking at different things (something the quote - which I mainly posted because it's funny - doesn't acknowledge - and that is part of why it's so funny.)

And as the discussion last time revealed, I like plenty of artists that can be describe as minimalist. And some poets too.


11:58 AM  
Blogger Johannes said...


yes, that's an interesting issue. And that's something that gets in the way of the mediumicity or visual purity arguments. I should note that Peter Saul talked about how great pop art was just before making the statement about minimalism. Fahlstrom being in part associated with pop art (though he thought the Americans were woefully naive politically. In his archives I found this letter to the director of the Modern Museum in Stockholm (Hulten) where he recounts Jasper Johns and Oldenberg and Raushenberg making the most ridiculous pronouncements about American exceptionalism.).

And you're right, Basquiat's handwritten things are some of his best stuff.


12:03 PM  
Blogger troylloyd said...

holy skitshit man!

you went thru the Fahlström archives?!?!

by Thor's hammer! that must have been amazing -- speaking of handwriting, it's cool that the recent NW Uni AGM book reproduced sketch for Whammo & sketch for Birdo.

i know that Pop Art originated from the British, it's a known fact, but Pop Art continues to be associated mostly w/ American practictioners, maybe the Warhol thing, i dunno.

But Fahlström totally transcended Pop Art, so i can see where his comments are coming from, he was involved in so many different aesthetic pursuits that i think when ppl equate him w/ Pop Art it is in neglect of his overall contribution to the arts.

It is nearly criminal that he is almost unknown in America, i mean he lived here for a while!

of course, from his perspective the Americans looked extremely naive, he had a very sophisticated worldview & he was also successful at implementing his philosophical stance directly into his artwork, an area of activity where i think the American Pop Artists ultimately failed...

...i still need to look more into the concept of "American exceptionalism" as i am woefully undereducated, but upon quick glance @ WiKi i noticed even Obama was commenting on it & found 1st reference from grandflash Tocqueville, shit, Finland proper is younger than USA & i'm amazed by the vibrancy of Finnish pluralicity...

...lost my track, yeah, the American Pop Artists seemed to fall into a schickt of merely representational aspect while Fahlström actually engaged the viewer on equal grounds, instead of saying "look at what mass commercialization has done to us", he asked the viewer to move the magnetic pieces themselves, thus by such interaction the viewer/participant realizes that indeed one's self can be active in proactive change as opposed to a simple conscription of "gee, we're only consumers inna sea of advertising"...

...often, i ask myself "who the fuck cares anyways?!?"

i don't know why i continue to torture myself!!!

= )

heh heh

12:44 PM  
Blogger Johannes said...


I actually think Fahlstrom was kind of naive as well...

His archives are amazing - loaded with all kinds of strange spectacles he wanted to put on, novels, books of poetry etc.

If you are interested in Fahlstrom I would heartily recommend "Kisses Sweeter than Wine", a spectacle ("happening" doesn't do it justice) that he put on as part of this extravaganze with Bell Laboratories and Rauschenberg in teh early 60s, as part of "9 Evenings" or something like that. You can watch it via the Stockholm Archive of Sound and Film. It's totally amazing an dover the top. One of the main characters is a siamese twin who emits fumes during the entire show while his brother bikes around the stage.


1:00 PM  

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