Printer Friendly

An adventure in minimalism.

Something interesting is always happening in the Robert Ryman room at the Temporary Contemporary Art Museum in downtown Los Angeles. The Temporary Contemporary is so-called because it was first conceived as an interim building to hold art while the Museum of Contemporary Art (MOCA) was being built nearby. However, the Temporary Contemporary was so popular with the public that in 1986 its lease was extended and, as MOCA at the Temporary Contemporary, it continues to be an integral part of the MOCA complex.

It's easy to see why the public is so fond of the Temporary Contemporary. It is a former warehouse transformed by the architect Frank Gehry into a vast and magical art space. The huge area is divided into different levels and loft-like spaces which are connected by ramps and stairs. Art is everywhere; in large open spaces and in small cozy rooms.

As part of the exhibit, "Individuals," one of the small cozy rooms contained five works by the minimalist artist Robert Ryman. Minimalist art is a style that had its greatest impact in the 1960s. It was an art form that attempted to avoid individual human experience. Minimalist artists stopped painting pictures of things and worked in non-representational ways. Many artists even stopped using color, and created surfaces that did not even show evidence of a brushstroke. One of the primary objectives of minimalist art was to create a visual image that was so spare that it would cause a person viewing it to reflect upon him or herself. But there was actually so little to see, many people found minimalist art uninteresting to look at. For example, upon entering the Robert Ryman room, one saw five white paintings. The surfaces were smooth and flat. No lines were drawn on them, and no shapes were painted. They differed in size, in the way they attached to the wall, and in the materials used. One painting might be white oil on aluminum, and another, white acrylic on fiberglass. If the main intention of minimalist art is to reflect onto the viewer and cause that viewer to think, then the Ryman works were a huge success--as long as the joke was on minimalism and the thoughts of the viewer were allowed to include humor.

I observed one group of people who decided that the Ryman room was a great place to practice their aesthetic scanning techniques: "Okay, front the left, across: white white white white white white; and down: white white white white white white white! And now, diagonally: white white white white white white white white white!"

Another group of giggling art appreciators made a ten-second tour and were on their way out when one of them spotted the backpack that I had set on the floor. The person stopped short in her tracks and said, "Oh, wow! Look! The shape! The texture! The color! Now, that's interesting!"

I observed some viewers spending more time reading the title labels than looking at the art. All of the labels were grouped together on a separate wall, and were titled Instructor, Expander, Resource, Credential and Distributor. It was impossible to know which title went with what painting because the labels didn't include the sizes of the pieces. Deciding which title went with which painting was like trying to solve a mystery. People were looking back and forth from the title labels to the paintings, like detectives searching for clues.

Some of the funniest comments weren't meant to be funny. One young child looked slowly around the room, put his hands on his hips and, in a voice filled with a five-year-old's disdain, said, "Hey, wait a minute. They didn't even paint on these yet!"

The Ryman room was always carefully guarded--probably against graffiti--and people sometimes expressed their reactions in the direction of the nearby guards. One person asked the guard if she were being punished to have to guard that room instead of one with more colorful artwork.

The last time I went to the Ryman room was just before they took the exhibit down. People were still walking m, chuckling, maybe cracking a joke or two, and walking out. But this time I took a few moments to talk with the guard on duty, who told me that while many people didn't spend much time in the room, sometimes a person would stand a very long time in front of the largest one (Instructor?, Expander?) Do you get a lot of questions and comments?" I asked. "We do," he said. "But, it's against our policy for guards to express opinions about the artwork. After all," he added kindly, "what if a guard said something negative about the art when the artist came by to pay a visit?" "But aren't you ever tempted to respond to some of the jokes?" I asked. "No," he said, "Because I think it's important to remember that art has something to say to everyone."

I turned and looked around the room at the five blank white paintings. It was like being in a movie theater that had five screens. Five blank white screens in a white room, waiting for us to enter and project upon them all the colorful images and ideas contained inside our own imaginations. Suddenly I saw what the guard could already see. If you looked at those paintings long enough, they weren't blank anymore.

Student adventures with minimalism

1. Look in art magazines and books for other examples of minimalism. Look for examples of sculpture as well as paintings. Share your discoveries. Are they funny? Serious? Strange? Relaxing? Mysterious? Boring?

2. If a minimalist artist came to your school, what questions would you ask?

3. Would you like to have some minimalist art in your house? If so, in what room?

4. Would you like to have a job guarding minimalist art? What would you tell people who asked you about the artwork?

S. If you could create a work of art in the minimalist style, what would it look like? What materials would you use? Would you get upset if people made jokes about it?

6. What do you like best about minimalist art? What do you like least about it?

Edie Pistolesi an art educator from Los Angeles, California.
COPYRIGHT 1991 Davis Publications, Inc.
No portion of this article can be reproduced without the express written permission from the copyright holder.
Copyright 1991, Gale Group. All rights reserved. Gale Group is a Thomson Corporation Company.

Article Details
Printer friendly Cite/link Email Feedback
Author:Pistolesi, Edie
Publication:School Arts
Date:Mar 1, 1991
Previous Article:Ancient Egyptian cars: a fun and creative way to drive students into learning about ancient Egyptians.
Next Article:Turned on by Turner.

Related Articles
Attitude is everything and everything hurts.
Irreplaceable hue.
Jo Baer.
"Les annees supports/surfaces.".
"Paul Thek: Paintings, Works on Paper and Notebooks, 1970-1988.".
Ronald Bladen.
Black-box theater.
Behind the seams.
Shabby clique.

Terms of use | Copyright © 2016 Farlex, Inc. | Feedback | For webmasters