Minimalist art: What is there to see?

Published on 15 November 2018

Yayoi Kusama’s No. H. Red and Tadaaki Kuwayama’s Blue TK684-60. (Photos: Claudio Chock)

The hype surrounding the latest mega art exhibition in town, Minimalism: Space. Light. Object., could seem puzzling to some.

On show at the National Gallery Singapore and ArtScience Museum are more than 150 works which look simple, almost too simple. But don’t dismiss Minimalist art, yet.

We pose questions that few dare to ask about Minimalist art to the Gallery’s museum director, Dr Eugene Tan, and deputy director of curatorial and research, Mr Russell Storer. Read on for their answers, and give Minimalist art a chance, maybe?

Artist Ai Weiwei’s Sunflower Seeds were made by artisans in the Chinese city Jingdezhen, famed for its porcelain.

I don’t like art. How can I possibly enjoy an exhibition on Minimalism?

Dr Tan: Minimalist art can be appreciated by anyone who feels that life is too sped up, and who is confronted by the constant noise and clutter of contemporary life.

Minimalism was very much about the art object. It paid great attention to the materials, the finish and the physical presence of the art. It gives you the opportunity to appreciate simplicity, purity, and the experience of being in the moment and paying attention to what you see.

We encourage visitors to take time to stop, look, and immerse themselves in the works of art in this exhibition. You really can see more through less.

Cargo by artist Sopheap Pich is suspended in the National Gallery Singapore’s UOB City Hall Courtyard.

What, or how, is one supposed to look at Minimalist art, since much of it is simple looking?

Mr Storer: While simple in their forms, Minimalist art can break down barriers to art appreciation since they are not intended to refer to anything other than themselves.

The artists aimed to remove narrative and meaning, drawing your attention to what you see in front of you. While there are art historical reasons for this, we don’t necessarily have to know this to appreciate the work.

If we look closely at the relationships that the elements form with each other, how the experience of the work changes as we move around it, how it alters the space around it, and how it relates to our own bodies, we can get a deeper sense of the art.

Neon light art by Dan Flavin from his “monuments” for V. Tatlin series pays homage to artist Vladimir Tatlin’s utopian ideals.

Isn’t Minimalist art simplistic?

Mr Storer: Minimalist art at first appears simple, and there is certainly beauty and clarity in such simplicity and formal purity. The clean lines, attention to materials, and the way it occupies space has a great presence and power.

However, there is more to the works than first meets the eye, and taking time to appreciate this can open up new experiences. There are complex relationships that the works create with their internal elements, their surroundings, and with the viewer, through reflection, repetition, scale, colour, or light, as well as how they are placed in relation to the floor and wall.

Minimalism is also deeply informed by various concepts about how we see and experience the world. These include Zen Buddhism from Asia, which asks us to contemplate existence and emptiness; phenomenology, which is the study of consciousness, primarily through our experience of objects; and Gestalt psychology, which studies how we organise our perception through seeing the whole as greater than the sum of its parts.

 

Details about Minimalism: Space. Light. Object. here. Read our other article on the show here.

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