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Tuesday, December 20, 2011


     dan flavin, untitled, 1971

Every year I give myself a Christmas present. Give myself a birthday present too. I've done this for so long I don't remember when it started or my reasoning. Whatever the reasoning, I agreed with it in the time I could remember it, so now that it's gone I'd just as well go on agreeing with it. I think the first reason is it just makes sense. I remember suggesting it to somebody a few years back groaning because he hoped somebody would give him something in particular for his birthday. I said give it to yourself. That way you're sure to get it. He was appalled at the thought of giving himself a present. I was appalled that he was appalled. It makes perfectly clear sense to me. For one thing, which is secondary, but very important, this way I am certain to get something I want. I suppose it came to me in childhood when year after year I never got anything for Christmas or birthday that I really wanted. Give myself a present and I get at least one thing I want.

This Christmas my present was a fairly recent publication of the art movement in New York beginning in the 1960s, MINIMALISM, edited by James Meyer, associate professor of contemporary art and criticism at Emory in Atlanta. I've looked through it for the copyright page with the date of publication on it. I've found quite a lot of notation 1980 to present. I don't know how to find when "present" is, what year. I found notation that Sol Lewitt died 2007, meaning the book was printed after that. That's close enough to give me an idea of when the book was made. I imagine Meyer worked several years on getting everything together toward publication. I'm very happy with it. It's all pictures. Beautiful prints by the publisher of art books, Phaidon. Each picture has a paragraph telling something about it. In the beginning is a preface, which looks like it might be interesting. I have a 1988 book on Minimalism by Kenneth Baker, a good book for reading and the collection of pictures.

This new one, 20 years later, has entirely different pictures. The newer one has Anne Truitt in it and lacks the earth work artists like Michael Heizer and Walter deMaria. Robert Smithson is represented in the newer book, but indoor pieces instead of his outdoor works, which the Baker book includes. The earlier book has different examples of Eva Hesse's work. As time goes by, I appreciate Eva Hesse's works more and more. This later book has Carl Andre examples galore. He has done quite a lot with blocks of wood 3' long and 1' by 1' arranged in different simple patterns. One standing by itself he titled Herm in 1976. Andre makes arrangements of bricks on the floor, and steel squares 1' by 1' he arranges on the floor in like 20 rows of 5, or 12 rows of 12. I've seen the set on the floor in the Museum of Modern Art. Museum goers are invited to walk on it. I've walked on it twice. It was no bigger deal than walking on any flat surface. But it was an interesting kind of zone feeling, feeling inside Carl Andre's prescribed zone that he articulated by these tiles on the floor.

     carl andre

Andre has used the floor probably more than anyone for arranging blocks of wood or bricks. Carl Andre seems like there is little to nothing to what he is doing, in that way like Cy Twombly making childlike scribblings. It's a new stretch of the mind to be able to step into a room in a museum and see some bricks arranged on the floor, and a few 3 foot long timbers arranged in a pattern. It really pushes the mind to say, I can do that. But I didn't. Carl Andre and nobody else did that. Therefore, it's unique because he did it and I didn't. Now, anyone that does it is following Andre. Neither of the two books on Minimalism---not meaning to imply there are only two, but the two I have---has much of Elsworth Kelly. I noticed neither of them has anything by Alexander Lieberman. Maybe Lieberman was thought more an abstractionist. 

I keep this new book of Minimalism beside my chair. Every time I have a few minutes I open and look inside, read a little, look at a lot of pictures of beautiful works of art. I like Abstract Expressionism an awful lot, and Pop too, but it's Minimalism that really speaks to me. I believe Minimalism might be my favorite period in 20th Century art. I like all the others, but something about the minimalist object appeals to me. The newer book has a good collection of Agnes Martin grids and Robert Mangold pencil lines on beautiful colors. And there's a great collection of Robert Ryman works, largely white. I've come to appreciate Ryman a great deal. This is a good Christmas present to myself, something I will look at again and again and probably read every word in it. And it didn't cost a great deal, which made it possible. Say it 's selfish to buy oneself a Christmas present? Maybe so. But so is everything else we do. Like once I caught on that everything is a sin, I was set free. It can't be avoided, so it's no big deal. 

     frank stella


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