One of my most vivid memories of experiencing art as a child was a family trip to Dia:Beacon on our way to New York City. Dia:Beacon is an immense exhibition space housed in an old Nabisco box printing factory in Beacon NY. I was around 12 years old when I went to Dia and I remember thinking it was the largest physical space I had ever entered.
My parents have always been fans of minimalist art and so the pilgrimage to Dia:Beacon to see rooms of plywood boxes, florescent tubes and string was non-negotiable. I was skeptical, just as so many people are today when they approach a stack of bricks in a museum and learn that it’s a Carl Andre and not remnants of a renovation. I’m not going to try and convince you to like minimalist art, there’s a YouTube video for that, I simply find it interesting that after visiting countless galleries and museums and completing an Art History degree that the way I experience minimalist art hasn’t changed much since I was 12 years old.
Minimalism receives a lot of hate. For many gallery-goers it seems to be a let down, or in extreme cases, rage inducing. It’s responsible for the “this is art?” comment or the much loved “I could do that” statement. Again, I’m not going to defend the movement or at least not in academic terms, it feels too personal for that.
Minimalist art needs to be experienced in a different way than pictures on a wall and at 12 years old I knew this. The artworks, which seemed to emerge from the architecture rather than being contained by it, invited movement that felt unconventional for an art gallery. I didn’t have to be told to walk through the Serra, between the Judd or over the Sandback, at 12 years old I just knew. The only warning I remember receiving was not to fall into the holes in the gallery floor (Michael Heizer, North, East, South West). I attribute my vivid memories of this visit to this new interaction with space. The art was fun and confusing and I liked the feeling that I was as much a part of the work as the material object itself.
Over reading week I took a trip to London, England to see some friends. Though we admittedly visited more pubs than galleries, we did manage to squeeze in a trip to the London Gagosian to see a Richard Serra exhibition. Once again I found myself acting like a 12 year old despite the comical number of security guards on the premises.
I love the way Serra’s twisting sheets of steel seem imposing and inviting at the same time. It’s as though they want you to walk through but are warning you that it might not be easy.
There will always be some level of nostalgia for me when it comes to Serra’s work, which is why I said I wouldn’t defend minimalist sculpture in an academic way. I still find his works as beautiful and clever and fun as I did when I was 12 and that’s what makes me appreciate them.
**PSA: “Minimalism” was a term given to the movement during the 1960s but was not graciously accepted by the artists themselves!