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 Robert Morris  (1931 - )

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Lived/Active: New York/Kansas/Missouri      Known for: earthworks, installation, minimalism

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Ad Code: 1
Robert Morris
from Auction House Records.
2001 Robert Morris / Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York
This biography from the Archives of AskART:
Robert Morris, a Minimalist artist, was born in Kansas City, Missouri in 1931, studying at that city's Art Institute from 1948 to 1950, and then at the California School of Fine Arts, San Francisco in 1951.

While living on the West Coast, he was involved with improvisational theater, film and painting.  He moved to New York City in 1961.  Like a number of artists of his age (Robert Motherwell, for example), emphasizing theory over artistic meaning, Morris did graduate work in art history, earning a master's degree at Hunter College in 1963.

Morris's theoretical writings, essentially a manifesto of Minimalism appearing in Artforum magazine between 1966 and 1970, sought to explain various art developments occurring in those decades.

His first sculptures, including a plywood tapering tunnel and a box entitled Box with the Sound of Its Own Making, date from 1961.  Such individual pieces, according to Morris, were not to be made according to criteria of taste, an outmoded concept, according to him but in response to various complex perceptual, intellectual, spatial, historical and above all, theoretical factors.

Such an art points to a turning away from timeless artistic values, for Morris's work, like that of some of his other contemporaries, is best understood in the light of Dadaist anti-art theories of Marcel Duchamp and other artist early in the twentieth century who rebelled against tradition.

For instance, Box with the Soundetc, a nine-inch cube containing a tape that recorded the sounds of the object being made, is clearly an artistic descendant of the Duchampian attitude that turned way from artistic profundity of meaning to declare a urinal or bicycle wheel to be a work of art.

As early as 1961, and until about 1967, Morris made unitary Minimal pieces.  These were monochrome, usually gray, and made of plywood. Anybody could fabricate them, given their measurements, part of the impersonal, "not-touched-by-human-hands" aesthetic of the day.

Between 1963 and 1965, Morris was involved in five dance and theater pieces with artist Walter de Maria, composer La Monte Young and dancer Yvonne Ranier. These activities probably reinforced his interest in whole spatial fields, evident in the arrangements of his Minimalist pieces.

In 1967, Morris began to make works of felt (Museum of Modern Art), a material that yields to gravity. Having always had an interest in the properties of materialsas opposed to any artistic or human meaning---he now also became concerned with the effects upon them of chance arrangementsa theory that Duchamp, the Dadaists and Surrealists had experimented with, and exhausted, fifty years earlier.

By 1968, Morris began to make so-called "anti-form" pieces, constructed or performed, and made up of piles of debris, bodies in movement, and even steam, sometimes documented photographically, and clearly representing the end of any meaningful continuation of the modern art movement.

Some pieces, such as the 1971 installation of beams and concrete in the Whitney Museum of American Art, an institution long responsive to such work, existed, unlike the great achievements of mankind's artistic past, for a limited period of time.

Matthew Baigell, Dictionary of American Artists

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